Lisa Scullin Shares How Milton Hershey School is a Home (and School) for the Holidays
By Lisa Scullin, MHS Vice President of Communications
I knew before starting my job in Communications at Milton Hershey School it would be different from anything I had done up until that point. Finding a career where you get to be part of a team of talented professionals who are changing the lives of children for the better is a gift I know is not easy to come by. But here at MHS, it’s a life we’ve come to know and thank our founders Milton and Catherine Hershey for every day.
Many years in TV news gave me a knack for finding and telling great stories. Those great stories—positive stories of strength, grace, and resilience—are everywhere at MHS. After nearly 10 years at our school, there is one story year after year that astounds me. (That’s a big deal for the often skeptical mind of a former journalist.) It’s the way we celebrate the holidays with our students.
You’re probably wondering, “Don’t your students go home for the holidays?” The answer is yes and no.
As a residential school for pre-K through 12th grade boys and girls from low-income families, students can enjoy holiday and summer breaks with family and loved ones in their home communities. However, what many people don’t know is that we’re open 365 days a year for any student who needs a home year-round. Some parents/sponsors choose for their kids to stay at MHS, even during the holidays. They have peace of mind knowing their kids are safe and have food, clothing, and other essentials that may be harder to come by at home.
We’ve built a proud tradition of giving these students a safe, family-like place during breaks through a program we call Year-Round Experiences or YRE.
While other schools shut their doors over the holidays, our staff is as busy as Santa’s elves creating Christmas magic. From the last day of classes before Christmas to the New Year, students’ time is chock-full of fun. Months of preparation go into organizing themed outings and special events. There’s tree decorating, light displays, visits from Jolly Old St. Nick, holiday meals, baking, bowling, ice skating, movies, and more. The pandemic adds an extra layer of detail to ensure safety, but we’ve adjusted well. Staff across campus even team up to create their own signature annual events, like the Catherine Student Celebration that features a special holiday field trip.
Most importantly in the hearts of our youngest students, is the joy and wonder of Christmas morning. Gifts are carefully selected, wrapped, and positioned under the trees in student homes and Camp Noel for students to discover. Their smiles are sweet reminders to our dedicated houseparents and YRE staff of why they pursued such a calling and their important role in our students’ lives.
It was Mr. Hershey himself who told Liberty Magazine in 1924 that he wanted men and women who love children to care for and educate them. We see that love in the thoughtfulness and care our staff gives to our students during the holiday season.
Our role as a school is to ensure our students graduate with a solid academic foundation, leadership skills, and character. But, as a home, we also want them to create happy childhood memories that will last a lifetime. After all, they are kids. Being at MHS is intended to make sure they can be just that—kids, without the stress of poverty (and now a pandemic) weighing on them.
This commitment by our staff to go above and beyond every day, including holidays, is another thing that makes MHS so special—it’s truly the most unique place of all the places I have worked. Together, we’re constantly growing and working to bring to life the vision and love Milton and Catherine Hershey created 112 years ago.