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Houseparenting: The Career That Changed My Life

By Kelly Stipe, Former MHS Houseparent

On Sunday, June 12, we watched online as a number of the boys we nurtured, mentored, and cared for as houseparents, walked across the stage to receive their Milton Hershey School diplomas. As of that moment, we now have 10 MHS graduates from our houseparenting journey—boys we consider our own sons.

Former Milton Hershey School housparent shares about the career that changed her life.

The Stipe family spend time together during their off time.

My husband, Shawn, and I became houseparents. This role was the most stressful, exhausting, and rewarding job I’ve ever had. We felt called to it. Every other opportunity seemed to fall apart, and it was clear that we were being lead to the place we were meant to be.

I worked in foster care for nine years before we accepted the job at MHS. At the time, I didn’t know what a mother’s love does to a person. I didn’t know that I would fall in love with children that were not mine—fiercely protecting and advocating for them along the way. I didn’t know four years was short and fast. Before I came to MHS, I didn’t understand that loving these kids and investing in them was so much more important than if the house was clean or if they had aced a test. Now, I know all these things and so much more.

We began our time at MHS as flex houseparents in Middle Division, bouncing around to different houses to learn how to be successful at this intimidating role. We brought our daughter, Dagny, with us who has special needs, and it was an experience that shaped our family forever.

We were placed in our own student home during the summer of 2014. When we opened our home for the beginning of the school year, we saw a dozen 10-year-old boys flood our lives with such joy and enthusiasm that sticks with me to this day.

Milton Hershey School students enjoy a car show at Hersheypark with their houseparents.

Students in student home Gondola check out cars at Hersheypark with their houseparents, Mr. and Mrs. Stipe.

Each year, the school holds an Opening of School celebration to encourage and motivate the community to achieve new heights in the year ahead. As we walked in that warm August morning with this group of amazing young men in tow, I realized that they were now a part of my family—and my heart—forever.

As I hugged and wished them each the best first day of school, I knew that my purpose in life had been redefined. It was now my sole responsibility to be the best mother figure to these boys and my daughter.

After several years, it became clear that it was time for our next chapter. But it was also clear that we would never quite leave this chapter in the past, and we would continue to invest in the lives of the young men who ventured through our student home.

My favorite part of houseparenting is how it changed my husband, Shawn. He cared for these young men as if they were his own. He now teaches high school and has our student home photos in his classroom. He was so excited to set up our TV to be able to livestream the Senior Chapel and Awards Ceremony and Commencement Ceremony for the Class of 2022. It shows that houseparenting is not for the faint of heart, but it will have a lasting impact on you.

If you feel called to the mission of MHS or houseparenting—follow it. You will be exhausted, and there will be challenging moments, but it will also change you and your family for the better.

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.