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It Takes A Village…

It’s mid-November. Pennsylvania in autumn is at its peak of beauty with red, orange, and yellow leaves; blustery, windy days; and holidays that are fast approaching. It’s easy for me to associate seasons with significant events that have happened throughout my life, and this time of year reminds me a lot about our beginning here at Milton Hershey School.

 Erik Niel

I think some people might wonder what it looks like to be a houseparent at MHS. I too had a very different idea of what I thought houseparenting would be like. For the first few months that we were here, houseparenting was the job.

It was all about getting to know everything about MHS and the students and the technical aspects and responsibilities that houseparents carry in their role. But as we became more comfortable in our job, I began to realize that there really is more to houseparenting than it just being a job.

There’s an African proverb that says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” While this is true of the school’s mission, and all that we are fortunate enough to be able to offer them, I think it’s important and fair to include that it takes this community (MHS) to support a houseparent.

Think about what a village is… A village is a group of people or families living in close proximity and sharing their talents and skills with each other to better that community. At Milton Hershey School, there is a staff of professionals, all with different backgrounds, talents and work experience that is doing that very thing-using what they have and what they know to better our students.

When Jacqui and I started working here, we felt that the school was really for us. We went through a thorough training program that was soundly supported by individuals who had a common goal to see us succeed. We felt supported, we were definitely encouraged, and we were growing in our new role.

As we began to houseparent in the Elementary Division, we started to meet the other houseparents and were excited to get to know so many neat people, all coming from different angles and willing to share their experiences as a way to encourage us. We also began to meet more staff from every department of the school. There are so many different parts to this school – Home Life, Scholastic, Transportation, Health Care, Food Services, Communications, Human Resources, Career and Development, Family Relations, the list goes on… But one thing is consistent among them all-every department, every employee here is willing to see each other grow for the benefit of our students. There is a like-mindedness here, and we were fortunate enough to have people helping to shape our role at MHS.

For Jacqui and I, we are grateful to those who have been encouraging to us and who invested in us, and we only hope we can do the same for others as they join our community. It takes a village…

Erik and Jacqui Niel

So what does houseparenting look like? Aside from growing in the job, we began to understand that there is another side to our position here as houseparents, and that includes what we do outside of being “on duty.” We learned very quickly that we are working within a community and that community does not sleep just because it is off the clock. We have developed friendships here… good friendships. Our children are growing up in a place where they have the opportunity to learn about what it means to persevere and come out reaching your goals. We live in a great area, which has opened the door for us to expand our borders a little and learn about what else is out there. And we feel supported just by getting to know the others that we work with through fellowship during our unscheduled time.

The village at MHS works hard to ensure that each one of its members is being encouraged to meet their full potential, both inside and outside of work.

Even though we are still growing, we hope that what we’ve learned here (and how we have been encouraged), reflects how we continue to help others. Because in the long run, doesn’t that eventually better the village itself? We will certainly do our best to continue that legacy.

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