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As a houseparent at the Milton Hershey School, Deanna Slamans has one of the fullest of full-time jobs. In addition to raising her own two children, she's essentially a mom to 12 underprivileged boys, just a few of the 1,800 at-risk children who each year receive a free education and housing at the facility, based in Hershey, Pennsylvania. But Slamans couldn't be happier to work at the very place that transformed her life years earlier.
She arrived at Milton Hershey at age 13 with as rough a background as any of her current students. When Slamans was 7, her mom committed suicide. Her dad wasn't in the picture, so she and her siblings moved in with their aunt. The neighborhood was dangerous, however, so her aunt decided the kids would be better off at Milton Hershey.
To Slamans the school was heaven. She lived in a safe, chaos-free home with houseparents who loved her. "I finally saw what I'd been missing," she says. "When you live with poverty, unhealthy relationships, and injustice, you think that's all there is in the world."
It wasn't until she met her husband, Andy, at age 20 that Slamans was inspired to return to Milton Hershey, this time as an employee. When she took Andy on a school tour, he was so moved that he suggested they become houseparents after they wed. "I thought, 'What better person for the job than someone who has shared these children's experiences?'" Slamans says.
Today she is back on campus and living in a huge suburban-style home with Andy, their kids, and 12 teen boys. The couple provide the boys with meals, homework help, emotional support, and much more. Her days are packed with chores ("I once fried 20 pounds of chicken for one meal!") and lessons (she homeschools her kids) as well as fun stuff like cheering on the boys at their soccer and football games.
It's not a simple life, but Slamans loves making a difference. Her former students often call her, sharing good news about college graduation, marriage, and children. "For me," she says, "seeing the kids continue to succeed as adults is the best reward of all."This Month's Challenge
Here are simple ways you can provide children with a better future:
-- Read to kids on Read Across America Day, March 2. It's Dr. Seuss's birthday, so why not bring Horton Hears a Who! or The Cat in the Hat to a local elementary school?
-- Donate school supplies to classrooms in need via our giving page at donorschoose.org. Access it by clicking the link at LHJ.com/dogood.
-- Become a mentor. Contact a local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters of America (bbbs.org) or Boys & Girls Clubs of America (bgca.org) to learn how you can get involved.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, March 2010.