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We Work at Milton Hershey School: The Esquibel Family Shares Their Houseparent Experience

By Andrea and Dustin Esquibel, MHS Houseparents

Nearly two years ago, we moved from Wichita, Kansas to Hershey, Pennsylvania to become Milton Hershey School houseparents. What we didn’t know then was the positive and lasting impact this job would have on our whole family—especially our son, Ben, who is neurodiverse. Despite having never heard of Hershey before finding this position and overall living a very comfortable and content life in Kansas, this change was bold, but we were confident in knowing it was exactly where we were supposed to be.

Before houseparenting, we both worked in special education. As a mom and full-time schoolteacher, it was super busy for Andrea, but Dustin worked multiple jobs and was clocking in nearly 90 hours a week. While juggling difficult work schedules and desiring to prioritize health and family, it was time for a change. When we learned about MHS, it seemed too good to be true.

As houseparents, we’d be able use our career and life experiences to impact children’s lives in a positive way. One thing we hadn’t experienced before was working together 24/7. It was an adjustment but something we have grown to value immensely.

From the moment we set foot at MHS, the Home Life team, houseparents, and staff in other departments were so welcoming and supportive. We first shadowed other houseparents and later filled in for houseparents on their days off, known at MHS as flex houseparenting.  That training allowed us to see different structures and student dynamics and prepared us for when we were placed in a Middle Division girl’s home—the division we felt called to serve.

The first few months were challenging at times. We learned to work together while also having the time, space, and resources in Hershey to help Ben receive a proper neurodiverse diagnosis. Ben was 15 years old at the time we started houseparenting. While we were focused on understanding our new role, supporting the students, and changing homes regularly through the training and flex stage, Ben learned how to be more independent by getting himself to the bus stop, navigating high school after being homeschooled, and taking care of our family dog. Ben was a champ from the beginning and played an active role in every house that we were working in. He cared for the students as if they were his siblings. If you asked him now, he would tell you that he has 13 sisters!

Throughout the transition, we leaned into our faith, we trusted our Home Life administrators, and were reminded daily that our focus is always the girls in the student home and Ben.

After our training period, our placement was in a student home where students exhibited challenging behaviors as a result of their own previous experiences. Nothing was going to stop us and we felt as equipped as we could be and continued to trust that this is where we were meant to be.

One impactful moment that confirmed our purpose here at MHS happened the first day we met the girls of student home Naples. Dustin stood up, looked each of the girls in their eyes, shook all their hands, and reassured them that we weren’t going anywhere. He also told them that his goal is to see them walk across the GIANT Center stage at graduation, scream at the top of his lungs, have signs, waving and cheering. Even on that first day, we knew we were meant to be their houseparents. To this day, the girls still bring up this story and smile as they work toward this goal.

As houseparents, we are models of positive relationships and family dynamics. We instill the MHS Sacred Values into the lives of our students and use the weekly Compass Project focus area as our guide for helping us through tough situations. We know that there are always going to be daily challenges, so we have nightly family meetings where we evaluate and discuss what we will do different next time. Our motto is that everything can be solution-based if we address the issues at hand. We show up each day with a positive attitude and look for opportunities to encourage each other.

The girls have become part of our family. They can’t wait to go to Ben’s band concerts or see him in his own high school’s play. The students greet him enthusiastically when he gets home from school and even recently celebrated when he landed his first job. We couldn’t have asked for a better family dynamic.

Working at MHS has allowed us to also ensure that Ben has the support he needs in the classroom and in the community to be successful. Because of his passion and talent for music, we were able to find an opportunity with the Eagles Autism Foundation for him to meet and play with the Eagles drumline. This initial clinic led to another opportunity where he got to play on NBC’s TODAY Show!

All three of us are proud to live at MHS. We are forever grateful for the safe and supportive houseparent community, the resources available, and the time that we can spend as a family working together and making memories that will last a lifetime.

Watch Ben Perform with the Eagles DrumlineLearn More about Housepareting at MHS

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