BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MILTON HERSHEY SCHOOL
Nate Houser never really wanted to go to Milton Hershey School. Is any 14-year-old ever sure of what he wants?
So to smooth the difficult transition, Houser immersed himself in sports. In hind sight, all Houser was really doing was buying himself some time, until he could discover all the wonderful advantages Milton Hershey has to offer.
Fast forward four years, Houser is now a senior member of the Milton Hershey football squad and a 12th-grader with a structured future. His direction was changed at a time when his life may have been at its most formative stage.
“If I hadn’t gone to Milton Hershey School, I think right now I’d be in foster care,” said Houser. “I don’t know. If we would’ve stayed at home, me and my brother would’ve been split up.
“If I could talk to anyone considering going to Milton Hershey I would tell them that the first year is hard, different,” continued Houser. “Once it saved your life, this school can help you get where you want to go. But it did save my life.”
A native of Jonestown, Houser has been playing football since he was a five-year-old member of the Northern Lebanon pee wee program. Houser also competes in wrestling and baseball for the Spartans.
“When I first came to Milton Hershey, I couldn’t get in right away, but I wanted to play,” said Houser. “My favorite thing about football is coming together and and being a team. Most of the kids on the team are friends. I like the family aspect of football.”
With Houser contributing on the defensive side of the ball, Milton Hershey is in the midst of an absolutely marvelous 2014 campaign. In light of an 8-2 regular season, Houser and the Spartans will take on Gettysburg in Friday’s opening round of the District Three Class AAA playoffs.
“I play middle linebacker,” said Houser. “What I do is call the plays, and recognize the offensive formations. I’m also one of the captains. I’m not the most vocal person. I think I’m more of a silent leader. But I’ll help anyone who needs help.
“We’re doing very well,” continued Houser. “We’re going to the playoffs. We’ve come together really well, especially for the size of the team we have.”
Founded in 1909 by Milton S. Hershey and wife Catherine, the philanthropic Milton Hershey School provides guidance, support and direct aid for underprivileged youth. Sprawled over 2,640 acres in Derry Township, the Milton Hershey School serves 1,925, mostly Pennsylvania children.
“I feel like ever since I got there, I started to take life more seriously,” said Houser. “I’m not sad any more. I’m better mannered. I feel like I have a home.
“I take everything more serious,” Houser added. “I’m not going through life and just surviving. I have goals. I’m not just looking at the present, I’m looking at the future.”
Houser entered Milton Hershey School four years ago as an eighth-grader. His parents had split up and neither of the new family dynamics felt like home.
“My dad was with my step mom, and she didn’t accept my brothers and I,” said Houser. “My mom was into drugs, pills and stuff. She went to jail. My dad started researching Milton Hershey School. He put an application in and me and my brother got accepted. Brandon just graduated two years ago.
“At first, we got angry and didn’t want to go at all,” Houser continued. “Me and my brother started saying ‘no’ at the interview, so we wouldn’t be accepted. But we talked about it as a family, and we decided it would be the best thing for the family.”
Through structure and discipline, Milton Hershey School takes students at risk like Houser and helps get them on the right path. The school was founded on the Milton Hershey’s belief that no child should slip through the cracks of society.
“The first time I really accepted the school was in the tenth grade,” said Houser. “I really liked my house parents. They really connected with students. At that point, it felt like home to me.
“My favorite thing about it is that we’re not like every other school,” added Houser. “Students feel like brothers and sisters. It just brings people together more. You feel like someone special.
One of the Milton Hershey School programs Houser is currently taking advantage of is its ‘transitional living’ initiative. The idea is to put soon-to-be graduates like Houser in independent living situations in which they are responsible for most of their own personal care.
“When I graduate, I’d like to go into the marine corps,” said Houser. “I’ve already enlisted. I go August 10th.
“What I like about Milton Hershey School is that you never feel alone,” concluded Houser. “You always have people to talk to. And there’s always something to do. If you like something, this school has it. I like sports.”