Local Couple Becomes Milton Hershey School Houseparents to Impact Community
By Karen and Leno Washington, MHS Houseparents
After growing up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and meeting in high school, we knew this area would always be our home. We never considered, though, that one day we would grow up to impact the lives of students and their families as Milton Hershey School houseparents—just 30 minutes from the community we called home our entire lives.
After learning about the houseparent role, we knew this career move was best for our family and would allow us to make a difference in our community.
Over the last 22 years, we have had the privilege to witness the small moments of excitement and growth in our students’ lives, while also teaching hard and important lessons in caring and loving ways. Many of our students have never experienced the little joys of childhood such as bowling, enjoying a movie theater, or playing in waves at the beach. As houseparents, we get to share in all these moments and more.
Each day, we care for eight elementary-aged boys in a student home—a family-style home life environment. Every student home follows a busy weekly schedule including transporting students to activities, preparing meals, overseeing chores, helping with schoolwork, and more. The career of a houseparent is action-packed and not easy, but we intentionally approach every interaction with our students. It is an honor to be chosen to walk alongside our students and to be a constant support to young people and their families.
Outside of our day-to-day responsibilities as houseparents, we get to mentor students of all ages and volunteer with several facets of the school. Over the years, we have played a supporting role in the Year-Round Experiences program, which operates during school breaks and the summer months to offer continued learning opportunities for children, coached various sports, substitute taught in the MHS elementary school, and much more.
We see our job to encourage our students and their families to be a beacon of light for those who will come after them, while leading new and empowering lives. Because of this inspiring mission, the last two decades have gone fast. What we love most about being houseparents is that we get to do it with each other and our children.
We are incredibly grateful for our career, because we know that our own three children are kind and empathetic because of the environment in which they have grown up. Each of them serves their own communities as a teacher, nurse, and soon-to-be college student, and we are sure that’s because they’ve experienced life with MHS students.
Twenty-two years is a long time to spend in one career, but we wouldn’t change our decision to walk the houseparenting journey for anything in the world.
Karen Washington is a 2023 YWCA of Greater Harrisburg Tribute to Women of Excellence award recipient for her commitment to making an impact on Milton Hershey School and her broader community.