Partnering Together to Impact Youth as Milton Hershey School Houseparents
Featuring Lee and Kelly Held, MHS Houseparents
With a love for teaching children, Lee and Kelly Held met in Houston, Texas, where together they taught at-risk youth. After several years of lacking resources to fulfill each student’s needs, the Helds were open to new opportunities closer to Kelly’s family in Grantville, Pennsylvania.
Each summer, Lee and Kelly would visit her family near Hershey, Pa. and pass by Milton Hershey School, always wondering what the cost-free private school and its 7,000-acre campus provided to working-class families. On one of their visits, Lee convinced Kelly to tour MHS and learn about the houseparent role.
“Not only did we learn about MHS, but we also left with houseparent applications,” Lee said. “A few weeks later, we were hired and decided on a start date and relocation plans.”
With a newborn on Kelly’s hip, the Helds moved to MHS and began the houseparent onboarding journey: school-wide orientation, specific training to the role, and flex houseparenting, where they shadowed other seasoned houseparents.
Once assigned to a student home, houseparent couples move into their own apartment attached to the student home with a private entrance and patio, several bedrooms, bathrooms, a living area, and kitchen. Houseparents are allowed to live with up to two dependent children, who attend nearby local schools while living in Hershey.
“We are encouraged to include our personal children in this journey—which is priceless to us,” Kelly said. “Through the years, our girls learned just as much from our students as the students learned from them. Our two daughters grew up at MHS and have grown because of our community.”
As houseparents, couples work together to oversee eight to 12 students of the same age range and gender. Each student home follows a busy weekly schedule including transporting students to activities, preparing meals, overseeing chores, helping with schoolwork, and more. During the school day, couples have unscheduled time where they can engage with their family, participate in community activities, and fulfill hobbies or passions.
“Everyone who works at MHS has so much to offer our students,” Lee said. “You don’t have to have a special degree to change lives. From teachers to pastors to empty nesters and everything in between, you just have to have a passion for helping students succeed.”
The Helds were excited about this career as it allows them to impact youth outside of the classroom in a family-oriented environment. Houseparents play a critical role in coordinating all functions of the student experience beyond the classroom to ensure children have their basic daily needs met. Often as a teacher, the Helds wanted to be more involved with their students and worried about their resources available at home.
“While teaching, we would send kids home often wondering if their needs would be met,” Lee said. “Here at MHS, we can make sure of it through our whole child approach to education. MHS provides everything a child needs including clothing, food, medical, dental, vision, and psychological services, and more.”
After 21 years of houseparenting, the Helds enjoy mentoring new houseparents and welcoming interested couples into their student home to understand the Home Life experience.
“When you work at MHS, you are a part of a large family and everyone is working towards one goal: providing a nurturing and safe home and school for low-income children,” Kelly said. “After two decades in this role, Lee and I want to help new houseparents succeed and provide them with a network to rely on.”
Interested couples can learn more about the houseparent role by attending an Online Information Session where MHS recruiters and current houseparents discuss the Home Life role in detail and answer questions live.
“Knowing that you played a small part in someone’s success is enough for us to feel satisfied that we did our job well here at the school,” Lee said. “The greatest thrill a houseparent can have is hearing about one of your former student’s success and all that they are achieving.”
2021 Chairman’s Award for Excellence Medallions
Lee and Kelly Held recently received a 2021 Chairman’s Award for Excellence Medallion, given to staff who demonstrate outstanding achievement with high levels of integrity and moral character.
Lee and Kelly Held have been houseparents for 21 years and showcase how to balance leading a student home, maintaining a healthy marriage, and raising their own children and students to be successful, healthy, and compassionate individuals. As leaders in the houseparent community, Lee and Kelly consistently maintain a positive spirit and are always looking for ways to support other couples. Houseparenting is more than a job. It is a calling, and one that Lee and Kelly continue to fulfill with passion and enthusiasm.