“Miracle Lady” Rita Van Meter Shares Her Memories Through Homeland’s My Life, My Legacy Program


Rita Van Meter of Lewistown was known as the “miracle lady”Rita and volunteer Kandy Melillo by staff at Geisinger Lewistown Hospital after she survived a medical episode in August of 2022. During her hospitalization, Rita suffered a heart attack and received last rites from her priest at Sacred Heart Church of Lewistown. She spent nine days in the hospital followed by one month in a nursing home. Rita turned to the services provided by Homeland Hospice, a nonprofit hospice program that serves communities throughout Central Pennsylvania, which enabled her to return home and live independently. Rita’s strength to overcome medical milestones is just one of the many chapters in the story of her life. She recently shared her life story through Homeland Hospice’s My Life, My Legacy program.

My Life, My Legacy was launched last year to help hospice patients preserve their memories and tell their life stories. Through the effort, a hospice volunteer meets personally with the patient and their family to ask a series of questions about the patient’s life. The volunteer records the responses and allows the family to add their thoughts and recollections as well as photographs. The result is a printed book for the patient to help find peace and pride in their life story. The book also helps families preserve memories after their loved one passes.

Rita worked with Kandy, a recent retiree and volunteer, over the course of several months to share her memories and work through the series of questions. The book was completed in February of 2022.

“I didn’t know what to think about the project at first,” Rita says. “After a while it was just like talking to a longtime friend.”

Rita, a mother of five children, is a vivacious, politically-active self-starter who deeply loves her family. For her, family extends to friends of her children, neighbors and anyone in need of a helping hand. Rita believes her call to help others stems from the social and political time she was born.

Rita was born in 1935 when the country was in the depths of the Great Depression. At the time, our country had an unemployment rate of 20%. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in August of 1935 which granted income for retirees and the unemployed. This Act was part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal to tackle the worst economic crisis ever experienced by our country. Rita was among the first wave of Americans to receive a social security card. With the card came a letter from President Roosevelt, which she still has today.

“I like to think this is why I am a Democrat,” Rita jokes. “Growing up in the Great Depression definitely influenced my passion for civic engagement.”

Throughout her work tenure, Rita served as a legislative assistant for Ruth Rudy, who represented Centre and Mifflin counties in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Rita loved the work because she knew the constituents and was able to help answer their questions and solve their problems.

Helping people in need of a friend is a common theme in Rita’s life. In 1989, Rita formed a nonprofit organization called Burd House, Inc., which provided a safe space for young men and women to receive help with their basic needs and education. Rita founded Burd House, which is in honor of her maiden name of Burd, by purchasing a former bakery and slowly transforming it with a kitchen, dining room, laundry service and recreational area. At any one time, up to 50 young adults could be found receiving tutoring, grabbing dinner and enjoying the company of friends at Burd House.

During its 20-plus years of operation, Rita impacted hundreds of lives through Burd House. Her small acts of kindness were miracles for many lost souls in need of a friend. Through the My Life, My Legacy program, Rita had an opportunity to relive countless happy memories of camping trips to Hidden Valley Camp Ground and special Christmas dinners with the men and women of Burd House.

Rita’s life story is special and unique, just like her. The beauty of My Life, My Legacy is that it is not a cookie-cutter approach to storytelling, rather it is a framework driven by the patient’s memories and experiences.

“Each story is distinctive based on the patient,” says Laurie Murry, Volunteer Coordinator for Homeland Hospice. “We focus on the topics that interest the patient.”

For Rita, her interests and passions are more than memories. Through her actions, Rita put in place tangible actions to change the lives of young men and women. These actions continue to ripple throughout the world today.

For more information about the My Life, My Legacy program, call Laurie Murry at (717) 221-7890.

Homeland resident Joyce Zandieh: Dedicated to justice and loving the Homeland life


Joyce Zandieh is a new resident at Homeland, Joyce Zandiehbut since moving into her personal care suite, people can see a difference.

“My friends say they can feel a change in me since I came here,” she said. “I always had to figure out who would cut my grass. Will the kids do this forever? Yesterday was the first snow in my adult life when I didn’t have to worry about who was going to shovel the snow. It’s like freedom, finally.”

Joyce brings a lifetime of activism and advocacy to Homeland. As a career nurse, she always found a way to speak up for others and help them overcome barriers.

On the day Joyce was born in Harrisburg, her father was in England, preparing to cross the English Channel with General George S. Patton’s 3rd Armored Division in the wake of D-Day. She grew up in Lemoyne before the family moved to the Mechanicsburg area.

After graduating from Cumberland Valley High School, she joined friends attending nursing school at Polyclinic Hospital in Harrisburg. In her last year, she found she enjoyed working in psychiatric care and providing care during labor and delivery. When she graduated, Joyce won an award for outstanding ability in obstetrical nursing.

“The miracle of seeing somebody being born was amazing,” she said. “I just loved it.”

Graduation launched a 45-year career in nursing, including time in her beloved labor and delivery. When she worked at Holy Spirit Hospital, she and a nurse who shared her interest in obstetrics and psychiatry co-founded the Maternal Assistance Program for pregnant women battling drug addiction.

Through the program, case managers helped women and babies get to doctors’ appointments and find whatever help they needed.

Joyce, who has a son and daughter from her first marriage, was single for 14 years after her divorce until she met Mehrdad Zandieh in 1985. A member of the Bahá’í faith, he fled his native Iran during the Iranian Revolution to escape persecution.

Making his way to the U.S., he met Joyce, a fellow Bahá’í drawn to the faith by its themes of one God, religion, and mankind. They married in 1990 and enjoyed movies, picnics, Bahá’í activities, and holy days. (For a good primer on Bahá’í, Joyce recommends www.bahaifaith.org).

They also shared a love of Broadway shows, counting “Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Misérables” as their favorites. Joyce remembers her first Broadway experience when she was about 13. The family was driving home from a shore vacation when she and her sister urged their parents to follow signs to New York City.

“And they went!” Joyce marvels. They saw Ethel Merman in “Gypsy.” “She never used a microphone. That hooked me on Broadway shows.”

Joyce is a lifetime NAACP member who believes passionately in equality and fairness.

As a member and later chair of the Harrisburg Human Relations Commission, she and a Latino woman once separately answered the same rental ads, busting the landlords whose blatantly inequitable treatment of the two violated fair housing policies.

“I’ve always been an advocate for people,” Joyce said. “I never wanted anybody to be mistreated.”

Joyce’s ties to Homeland go back many years, knowing its sterling reputation from her mother’s time as a resident to the support from Homeland HomeHealth nurses after knee and hip replacements.

When Mehrdad, a cancer survivor, was diagnosed with a new tumor early in the COVID pandemic, Joyce cared for him at home. In his last few weeks, Homeland Hospice sent a nurse to help with the medical care and an aide to take care of Mehrdad’s personal needs.

“I felt relief because I could be the wife again,” she said.

Mehrdad died in May 2020. Joyce grieved deeply but continued living in her Harrisburg home, still doing favorite things like renting a limo to take her daughter and daughter-in-law to see Hugh Jackman in “The Music Man.”

However, looking back on the last year, Joyce realizes that she was building up towards the move to Homeland, having her house cleaned and giving family and friends her beautiful Persian rugs from Mehrdad’s native Iran.

An avid fan of Freddy Mercury and Elvis Presley, Joyce brought a Freddy Mercury doll crocheted by her daughter to her bright Homeland suite. As she settles in, Joyce looks forward to starting a new jigsaw puzzle featuring the album covers of Queen. She loves playing bingo and enjoys the musicians who entertain the residents.

“Sometimes, an older gentleman will get up and dance with some of the aides, and it’s so sweet,” she said. “I don’t have to cook. I don’t have to do housework. I don’t have to clean. I’m really happy to be here.”

Gold Star Mother, Nurse and Advocate Finds Support in Homeland’s Palliative Care Program


Dr. Suzanne Sheaffer of Harrisburg has held many titles in her life.Suzanne Sheaffer She is a Gold Star mother, nurse, volunteer and tireless advocate for victim’s rights. She is a steadfast fighter for those who need a champion, and believes every experience has a silver lining. Suzanne is marshalling her strength and faith to add cancer survivor to her list of titles. With the help of Homeland’s Palliative Care team, Suzanne has developed a path to medical treatment which puts her at the center of care.

Homeland’s Palliative Care program helps patients and their families have a better quality of life by providing comfort and relief from the symptoms and stress of a serious illness. Homeland provides community-based palliative care anywhere an individual calls home. The team consists of board-certified nurse practitioners, a licensed medical social worker and a physician medical director.

Suzanne’s path to Homeland began more than 20 years ago when she worked as Deputy Administrator at another care facility alongside Barry Ramper, Homeland Center President and CEO. Barry was a friend and mentor to Suzanne and their time together helped shape Suzanne’s career.

“Barry believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself,” Suzanne says. “He is the reason I decided to advance my career.”

With Barry’s support, Suzanne earned her degree in nurse administration. She went on to become a forensic nurse and the first nurse in law enforcement for the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. Suzanne spent the remainder of her career fighting for the rights of victims through her investigations and helping families navigate the criminal justice system. For her, this was more than a career. It was a calling she wanted to follow until retirement.

Suzanne’s plans changed course on Friday, May 27, 2022 when she learned she had stage IV cancer in her lungs, lymph nodes and brain. The presence of cancer in her brain might impact her cognitive abilities. Knowing this, Suzanne did not want to risk jeopardizing future investigations and resigned from her job. This began her personal and unwavering battle to beat cancer.

Suzanne’s initial medical team and course of treatment was not supportive of her determination to fight and beat her diagnosis. She knew she needed an advocate and turned to Homeland at Home and its Palliative Care team. For Suzanne, all signs pointed to Homeland for its reputation of quality and compassionate care as well as the reputation of two key individuals, Barry Ramper and Dr. David Wenner, Assistant Medical Director for Homeland Hospice. David is a longtime friend of Suzanne’s husband Paul and has helped the couple navigate Paul’s medical care.

“David was in my corner the minute we started,” Suzanne says. “He gave me hope and listened to how I wanted to tackle my disease.”

With the support of Homeland, Suzanne began treatment at Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York City with routine care delivered by the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Mechanicsburg. She has completed chemotherapy treatment and radiation and is getting stronger every day.

“I am making rosary beads for Homeland patients from my home this winter,” Suzanne adds. “I look forward to volunteering in-person soon.”

Learning about her life-changing diagnosis and leaving a career she loved has been a challenge for Suzanne, but it is no match for her strong will and courage.

“Hearing the word cancer was not the worst day of my life,” Suzanne says. “Those days came years ago when I lost my children.”

In 2011, Suzanne’s daughter Sarah, who had multiple special needs, died at age 24. Less than two years later, Suzanne’s son Billy, an active Petty Officer in the United States Coast Guard Sector Boston, died unexpectedly of cardiac arrest at age 28. The profound loss of her beloved children broke Suzanne’s heart but not her will to live and give back to the world around her. She channeled her grief into volunteerism and honoring veterans who bravely served our country.

In 2016, Suzanne helped start the Wreaths Across America program at the Dauphin County Cemetery, which is also known as Potter’s Field. Through the program, wreaths are placed throughout the cemetery in mid-December to honor veterans. Many years ago, Homeland Hospice became a partner and now helps lead the annual event with Suzanne’s help.

With her unwavering faith, husband, volunteerism and plan of medical care, Suzanne is rebuilding her strength and is determined to conquer cancer.

“I know my Homeland team will move mountains to help me,” Suzanne adds. “I need Homeland to win.”

For more information on Homeland’s Hospice and Palliative Care programs, call (717) 221-7890.

Lovable Pets Featured in Homeland’s 2023 Lottery Calendar




Our pets are loyal and trusted members of our family. Their unconditional love and friendship brighten our darkest days and make the good days even better. Research has shown that pets, especially dogs and cats, can even reduce stress hormone levels and increase levels of feel-good hormones. The undeniable comfort pets bring to our lives makes them the perfect subjects for our 7th Annual Lottery Calendar.

Homeland’s Lottery Calendar has become a tradition for friends, volunteers and supporters of the organization’s work. The monthly calendar costs $25 and supports Homeland’s benevolent care programs. Everyone who purchases a calendar is eligible to be entered into daily drawings for prizes. From $30 gift cards up to $100 gift cards on special days, purchasing a calendar is a winning bet. Only 1,000 calendars are produced and sold.

This year’s calendar features photos of the lovable pets of Homeland staff, board members, volunteers and complementary therapists. The concept for a pet-themed calendar was suggested last year at this time and the idea blossomed. Each month, a committee reviewed and judged pet photos based on the criteria of cute and cuddly, month and season, photo composition and creativity. The calendar is a compilation of the winning photos.

“The process was fun for everyone,” says Wendy Shumaker, Director of Marketing for Homeland. “It also raised awareness among our staff about the importance of fundraising to support our work.”

While the calendar predominantly features dogs and cats, Peach, a bunny belonging to the residents of Homeland Center, hops onto the page for the month of April for Easter. The most unique photo is of a Highland Cow, proudly showing off its long wavy, woolly coat.

Proceeds from calendar sales provide financial support and additional services to Homeland residents, patients and clients in need. Since the launch of the calendar in 2015, more than $60,000 has been raised to help Homeland Center provide benevolent care. Homeland provides more than $3 million in benevolent care annually to ensure all residents, patients and clients receive high-quality, supportive care when they need it most.

Homeland believes that every interaction with a resident, client, or patient is an opportunity to create a memorable moment, making an ordinary day a special day. This is especially true for residents who no longer have the financial means to pay. A hallmark of Homeland Center is that no one is ever asked to leave because they can no longer afford care.


To purchase a calendar, visit (Donate (paypal.com)) or contact Homeland’s Development Office at (717) 221-7885.