Ododo Walsh ’98
Milton Hershey School and New York City, though within neighboring states, are worlds apart when alumna Ododo Walsh ’98 reflects on her childhood in poverty.
“I was living in New York City with my mom and my younger brother, Osahon,” Ododo said. “And we were not in a good situation. We lived in a one-bedroom, really small, cramped apartment and our neighborhood was not very safe, not very clean. And fortunately, my mom learned about Milton Hershey School through a friend and its mission to break the cycle of poverty.”
In 1991, Ododo and her brother enrolled at Milton Hershey School. Ododo moved into a student home with other middle school girls, all under the loving care of a welcoming houseparent couple. Although she distracted herself from the natural feelings that come with saying goodbye to her mother, Ododo remembers—at age 11—she felt like a kid, without the worries that she was familiar with while living in New York City.
Ododo was quick and ready to play with other students through this new, inclusive, and structured way of life. This whole child approach helped her flourish as a student. She describes herself as a “happy-go-lucky kid” when recalling her days as a student at MHS.
Ododo soon built a collection of many fond memories—playing field hockey for the very first time in her life, joining girl scouts, getting involved in student government, and seeking to discover (though admitting it wasn’t her strongest talent) new passions like singing in varsity choir.
MHS was at the center of it all. The MHS experience afforded Ododo the opportunities and access to resources provided for free, but also connected her with peers and staff that would continue to push and support her to be her greatest self.
Ododo’s journey at MHS could be seen as a transformation in various realms. Once a girl living in poverty city conditions, she then found in herself an excelling student-athlete with a broadening ability to lead others. Ododo expresses a humble gratitude when sharing her participation in college athletics after graduating from MHS in 1998.
“Not a lot of kids get to pursue college-level athletics,” she said. “And I got to do that. I was on a Division II national field hockey team.”
She believes, once again, this was possible because of what MHS and its staff taught her. But college athletics was not the only place where lessons expanded Ododo’s potential. During the summer months when she was in college at Lock Haven University, Ododo returned to MHS to work in the program now called Year-Round Experiences (YRE).
Ododo’s path to success continued when she enrolled in Temple University’s graduate program, and in 2005, received a master’s degree in Educational Administration and Supervision.
“Pursuing that degree really set the stage for the opportunity to come back to Milton Hershey School,” Ododo said.
After receiving her master’s, she first worked in Philadelphia and then Coatesville. These roles gave Ododo the experiences that she credits to being “something” that she could give back to her Alma Mater. Then in 2014, Ododo returned to MHS to work full-time as a Home Life Administrator (HLA) in Elementary Division.
“I remember when I got the call that I got the job to come back to MHS,” she said. “I just had the vision of American Idol where you have the person on stage and it’s like they just won the lottery. That’s how I felt. I felt really grateful.”
To say she was back at MHS was a priceless reward that validated all of Ododo’s hard work and discipline in school, on the field, and in the professional world. Returning as a full-time staff member also awakened a deeper appreciation for her student experience and the staff who made a difference in her life.
“I got to really see all the collaboration and cooperation that happens on this really big campus to make sure that our kids have a really positive experience,” she said.
Ododo worked in the HLA role for six years, supervising houseparents. She then went on to become Associate Director of Transitional Living (TL), the independent living program for senior students.
Now, Ododo serves as the Senior Director of Home Life and Student Leadership. In this role, she oversees the hiring of houseparents as well as the Compass Project—the character development program at MHS that weaves into both home life and scholastic life.
The Compass Project is just one way that MHS looks out for the care of the whole child, every child. And this care began in 1909 when Milton and Catherine Hershey signed the Deed of Trust.
“Milton Hershey School has been an expert in this field for over 112 years now,” Ododo said. “We understand that our students who come from poverty need that whole child care. It comes from meeting their basic needs with food and clothing and medical and dental care. And also providing them with a sense of stability, that sense of belonging, that sense of safety.”
Meeting these needs, she continues, is one step to help break the cycle of childhood poverty, which is and has been a national crisis in America.
“It did that for me and has done that for countless other alumni who have been blessed to come and experience what Milton Hershey School has to offer,” Ododo added.