Our Mother’s Houseparent Job at Milton Hershey School
By Kayla and Lauryn Washington, Daughters of MHS Houseparents
When our parents—Karen and Leno Washington—first became Milton Hershey School houseparents more than two decades ago, we were nine and two years old. Growing up, we lived in a student home with eight elementary-aged boys. While our reality was different from our friends’, we are the women we are today because of this experience watching our mother.
Memories from our childhoods consist of large family meals in the student home, and watching movies, playing games, and making memories with MHS students. Now, we know that in these moments we learned empathy, compassion, and courage.
But it wasn’t just the students we interacted with that taught us valuable life lessons. As we watched our parents choose to intentionally invest in the lives of the students and their families, we learned to be kind and loving towards others.
Our parents always placed an emphasis on the concept of family. They never allowed our family to feel separated from the happenings of the student home—because we were not two families living under the same roof, but one family charging towards the same mission and purpose. It showed through their actions that becoming houseparents was not a career choice, but a way of life.
Over the years, we’ve watched our mother’s love grow for the students and families she serves. She—and our father—have worked to ensure that every family and student that walks into their student home feels welcomed into our family. To this day, there are students we continue to have relationships with and parents/sponsors who will reach out to see how we are doing. In our eyes, that is the definition of family.
Houseparents do more than drive students to and from activities and cook meals—it’s loving and supporting them as they grow, no matter the circumstances. Had our parents not chosen this career path, our own professional futures would look very different. We work in pediatric nursing and elementary teaching because we want to make an impact on the next generation of young people, just like our parents.
Without a doubt, our mother is our hero, simply by the way she has chosen to live her life. We are incredibly proud of her and are so grateful that more than 22 years ago, our parents decided to become houseparents at MHS. Their career has impacted our lives for the better.