the sweetness of the kingdom: houseparenting in hershey

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(This is a story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things for the Kingdom of God. We’re so blessed to call Ashley, the writer of this guest post, and her husband Joe some of the best friends we’ve ever had. We love them and after you read their story of living the Kingdom at home, you’ll see why.)

I grew up in church. We used to hear from missionaries to far-away places all the time. Every time a new missionary would come and talk about jungle-living with no running water and enough mosquitoes to power a small city, I would think, “I could never do that. I could never go there. Not even for Jesus.”

I used to feel guilty about that. I used to think that the only way to live Kingdom here on earth was to be a missionary, or a pastor or a professional Christian of some sort. How freeing to come to the realization that living the Kingdom here on earth is just to be open to the gentle nudge of God. Thank goodness He doesn’t nudge everyone in the same direction. He sends some to the far corners of nowhere and some to the cubicle on the 8th floor of an office building downtown.

For us, the nudge was to the sweetest place on earth to love on kids who haven’t always experienced love.

And we are so grateful to be able to live the Kingdom right here, everyday, at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA. My husband Joe and I are houseparents — a job title that is both self-explanatory and impossible to explain.

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me start from the beginning.

We’ve always been passionate about young people. (I always feel like I am 75 when I say that.) Joe and I met in college, when we were both volunteering with middle schoolers at our church. From there (Indiana) we moved to Iowa, where after four months, not only were we already doing youth lip-sync nights, small groups and overnighters, but I was also on staff, working for the youth pastor. In the midst of finishing degrees and working full time jobs, we spent the majority of any extra time we had with students. So when baby #1 was on the way and we began thinking about a move and career change, we started to look for something that would meet our needs and also allow us to serve together as a family. Houseparenting was that career – if you can call it that.

We looked into multiple residential programs that had open positions for houseparents. They ranged from facilities that ran more like rehab programs for teens, to ones that received students from Children and Youth Services to one that was essentially an alternative to juvenile detention. All great places doing great things, but when we stumbled upon the Milton Hershey School, we knew we had met our match. For the 1,800 students that attend the school, it’s the sweetest place on earth because it’s a place of opportunity. It’s a place of safety. It’s a place where you don’t have to wonder where your next meal will come from. It’s a place that gives great hope for futures that otherwise may have looked like the poverty and brokenness from where you came. It’s a place that provides not only a top-notch education, but also a home for you to go to everyday after school.

So once we met all the requirements, we began the extensive houseparent application process. We applied in December last year. Then there were two lengthy phone interviews, an invasive background search, another phone interview, an overnight stay in a student home, an on-campus interview complete with role playing, a medical test, a home study and fingerprinting. This June, we received the official call welcoming us to the Milton Hershey family.

Exciting, right? Yes, but also totally terrifying.

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The decision to become a houseparent isn’t a decision that affects just us, but our entire family. When we came to campus for our interview, I was 8-months pregnant with baby #2. Baby #1 – Owen – was only 18 months old. Our sweet kids didn’t get to make the decision to turn their lives upside down so mommy and daddy could take care of 12 other kids. That was our decision for them. That’s a lot of weight to bear as a parent, to know that you totally changed the trajectory of your child’s life from normal to completely atypical. In between all the madness and busyness of the student home, we have two beautiful little gifts from God who need our attention just as much as ever.

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This job totally turns your life upside down. We work twelve days straight and then have off for two days. During our 12 days on, we are on. We start with check-in at 6am, then make breakfast, supervise morning chores, do devotions and send the kids out the door by 7am. From the time the kids leave until 8:30am, it’s time to organize your office, check e-mail, do paperwork and drink lots of coffee. From 8:30am-2pm is our down time unless there are meetings. (But when you have two kids two and under, there is no such thing as down time!) Then by 2pm we are back in the office, catching up on e-mail, voicemails and checking the students’ performance while at school. By 3pm students begin trickling in (depending on after school activities). From then until dinner – around 5:30 – there’s phys time and a little bit of down time for the students, but it’s time for me to start making dinner for 15 people. (Yikes.) Then it’s dinner, after dinner chores and study time from 6:30-8. Then snack, more homework and bed by 10pm…for the students. For us it’s time to catch up on e-mail once again, do more paperwork and if it’s a good night, we’ll get to head back to bed by 11pm.

So are we crazy to choose this life for our family and us? Maybe. But we don’t think so. Because we know that our decision to work here and live this life was’t really our decision at all. God so intricately worked in the details of bringing us to this place and made it so clear that this is where we are meant to be, that we haven’t looked back once since we first started filling out our applications.

That’s Kingdom to me.

The days here are long and sometimes really challenging. It’s hard to have your entire family be 100% integrated into your work. But it is also so rewarding. It is so cool to meet the students here. To hear their names and their stories. To watch them light up when your two-year-old remembers their name. It’s so fun to play basketball and soccer with them. To help them study physics and Spanish and algebra.

Is it easy? No, not always. Is it safe? Not necessarily. Does it look crazy to people? Normally.

But in the midst of all of that, there is overwhelming peace in the Kingdom of God.

ashleyhAshley Hoover shares a birthday with her bearded husband Joe, and is a happy mama to her two sweet kids, Owen (2) and Myra (six months). She serves as a houseparent at Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA. She feels deeply about humbly serving God and investing in the lives of teens. In her (pretty rare) free time, she enjoys the fresh air of the Pennsylvania countryside, knitting, and a good cup of coffee.

 

31 days of living the kingdom at home

Read more in this series.

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3 thoughts on “the sweetness of the kingdom: houseparenting in hershey

  1. Sounds like the kind of reward you get from being totally exhausted doing something you love! Do you have your own home now, or are you still in flex?

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