From Houseparenting to Hiring at Milton Hershey School
By Jacqui Niel, MHS Houseparent Recruiter and Former MHS Houseparent
When I started working at Milton Hershey School, I had no idea how I would fit in to what seemed like the extraordinary role of houseparenting. Little did I know that this career choice would change my life forever and guide me on a journey to working as a houseparent recruiter.
I’ve always loved working with children. It’s the (sometimes too straightforward) honesty and joyful light from within that always, as I often say, “fills my cup.” I love their expressiveness—like when they finally learn something, and you see it all click into place through their facial expression. I also love the deep-thought expression—a squished face, eyes looking upward as if searching for the answer in a cloud. It’s like you can read their thoughts on the outside.
I guess that’s one of the many reasons I initially decided to become a teacher. I loved helping kids learn and gain those “ah-ha” moments. Prior to finding houseparenting, I was a teacher in Reading and Hamburg School Districts in Pennsylvania. At that time, I thought I had found my passion, but little did I know I’d be able to turn the skills I sharpened in the classroom into a far more meaningful role—teaching young ladies about life in a structured, caring, home away from home.
I moved from the classroom to the student home in 2009. After arriving in Hershey, PA and transitioning to my new role as a houseparent, I learned that my experience as a teacher would help me adjust to my new responsibilities—caring for nine elementary school girls.
Just like the classroom, I worked with MHS parents/sponsors to ensure they felt supported and had the resources necessary to keep building their child’s skills while they were home during holiday breaks or long weekends. I had the pleasure of working with many families over my 11 years as a houseparent, growing strong relationships and bonds with each of them.
Over the 10 years I spent houseparenting, I began to see my role as a difference maker. I was impacting the lives of more students than I could have ever imagined. My family and I had the privilege of watching our girls succeed in little and big ways. We watched students enroll at MHS who didn’t have letter recognition, progress into advanced readers and leaders. We had students who had never been in a sport or played an instrument find their passions as athletes and in the arts. We taught students how to ride a bicycle without training wheels. On student home vacation, we had several students visit the beach for the first time.
But it’s not just in the little ways. I’ve watched several of the girls who passed through my student home graduate from MHS and go on to new and exciting adventures. These moments are not lost on me. From the successes to the challenges, being a small piece of our students’ journeys is a great honor. Being a houseparent changed my life in more ways than I can count.
Now, I have the honor of sharing this unique and life-changing role with people from around the country as a houseparent recruiter. In this role, I get to share the joys of being a houseparent, which is in my opinion, one of the greatest jobs on Earth because of the reward—developing young hearts and minds and giving them the skills to succeed in life. It also doesn’t hurt that it’s located in a sweet town like Hershey.
I have a picture of my former students in my office that remind me every day why my role in Human Resources to hire houseparents is important. I know first-hand that dynamic houseparents make a world of difference in the lives of our students.
If you and your spouse are interested in pursuing a new career that will make a difference, attend an upcoming online information session or visit our website to learn more about houseparenting at MHS.