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Help from my Housefather

By Elijah Espaillat ’21

Milton Hershey School student Elijah's school picture.My palms are sweaty. I walk into the auditorium where people are smiling like they just won the jackpot. My thoughts bang in my head as if The Rock just swung a bat in my direction. My loved ones sit next to me.


A short, middle-aged woman with a bright smile greets me, “Hello, my name is Mrs. Jiles. I’m the houseparent at student home Lenape.”

Two years later, nine months into my junior year at Milton Hershey School, my confidence has grown beyond measure because of the connections and relationships I’ve made. Pressure and the art of not giving up turned into the motivation that became part of the young man I’m becoming every day.

Some may think this transition is fast or even easy, but it was a journey for the ages. Despite the hardships I faced to get here, I refused to give up. It is true that I am hard-headed, but I also have had down moments. It’s just that giving up was not an option. My housefather, Mr. Jiles, would remind me of that when he checked on me every day.

Freshman year was one I will never forget; it was the spark of my biggest challenges physically and mentally. I was put into an atmosphere that required me to be constantly active, and it was as if I had been granted my biggest childhood wish—sort of. The idea of getting in better shape was something I wanted to do. I quickly learned the difference between “I want” and “I do.” Throughout my journey, Mr. Jiles helped guide my way along the path, despite the obstacles. At first, I thought, “How can he help?” But over time, and by taking a leap of faith, I learned that he had played sports throughout high school.

Eli's houseparents at Milton Hershey School support him as he sets short- and long-term wellness goals.

In addition, student home Lenape was home to outstanding MHS athletes at the time and in the past. Mr. Jiles paired me with one of those athletes, a junior named Hillary, who would wake up with me every other day to show me how to work out. As time passed, I also received help from two other juniors, Jay—The Big Guy—and Pedro.

At first, it was weird living in a house with 11 other guys who weren’t family and being parented by people I had just met, but over time, it became my new normal. It was comfortable. I went from questioning why we were eating and praying like a family to, “Can everyone, please, bow your head for this prayer.” The guys in the house went from being “The Big Guy” to “My Brother.” To this day, I keep in contact with the guys who were juniors when I was a freshman.

My name is Elijah Espaillat, and this is my MHS family.​

Milton Hershey School does not discriminate in admissions or other programs and services on the basis of race, color, national or ethnic origin, ancestry, sex, religious creed or disability. Read important MHS policies on equal opportunity and diversity, equal employment opportunity, and more.