Gloucester teenager learning life skills – and how to build a house – away from home – Daily Press
GLOUCESTER — No one knows exactly how a flyer for Milton Hershey School in Pennsylvania ended up in Trevor Parsell’s mailbox some six years ago.
Trevor, now 17, was living with his grandmother in Page County at the time; they settled in the community of Hayes in Gloucester County in 2021. Due to addiction issues in the family, she had full custody of him and his three siblings, and was managing as the sole guardian in cleaning houses.
MHS is a free private boarding school in Hershey, Pennsylvania for boys and girls from low-income families. The program not only covers tuition, but also housing, medical, dental, psychological, food and clothing costs for 2,000 students from kindergarten through high school.
Trevor’s best guess is that a friendly neighbor wanted to help. “Someone thought I would be a good candidate for school,” he said. “It was so lucky.”
Trevor applied to MHS, was accepted, and started there in seventh grade. Now a senior, he is part of the construction/carpentry stream of MHS’s Vocational and Technical Education (CTE) program. He returns to Virginia for summers and school vacations.
Last year, Trevor and 17 classmates built an entire tiny house from scratch, guided by their carpentry teacher. The 24-foot-long Tiny House, with two mezzanines and a living room, kitchen and bathroom, will serve as accommodation for future school guests.
“It was great to see it fall into place,” Trevor said. “I’ve always loved working with my hands and being outdoors, but I learned that I could do more than I thought I could.”
Famous chocolatier Milton Hershey and his wife, Catherine, founded MHS in 1909 after they could not have children and decided to devote their fortune to educating young people. The school is approximately a seven hour drive from Gloucester Point.
Students live in more than 180 houses on campus, each housing between eight and 12 children of the same gender and age. Each home is run by a married parent couple with childcare experience.
During their senior year, students move into apartment-style residences with adult support, focusing on life skills such as budgeting and time management. MHS also helps many graduates with tuition and transition support to higher education or a full-time career.
Today, Trevor’s sisters, Lilee, 12, and Aubree, 9, also attend MHS. Her grandmother recently submitted an application for her 5-year-old grandnephew Noah – the other children consider him their brother – who would otherwise start kindergarten at Abingdon Elementary School in Hayes.
“This school immediately changed Trevor’s life,” Trevor’s grandmother said, asking to be identified only by her first name, Bekket. “Not only did it take him away from that addiction cycle, but it completely transformed him with academics. He never would have gone this far.”
By the end of elementary school, in fact, Trevor was struggling to read and losing interest in all of his classes, Bekket adds: “His thought process was, ‘It doesn’t matter. He was so defeated. Now it’s, ‘Yeah, I can do it. I can understand it. “
CTE carpentry and construction students tackle big projects every year, including building candy houses for Hersheypark. “We have so many resources and opportunities that most high school kids don’t have,” said Joe Fick, Trevor’s carpentry teacher at MHS. “It’s such a blessing.”
For the small brown and white house, students tackled the walls, framing, roofing, siding, windows, doors, stairs, railings, crown mouldings, paint and trim. They installed flooring, cabinets, appliances, sinks and toilets, while learning electrical and plumbing skills.
Before going to MHS, Trevor’s only building experience was using hammers, saws and nails to make bike ramps. “There was so much equipment that I didn’t even know existed,” he said.
After graduating, Trevor plans to go to college to study construction management. Another option is a full-time job in construction or carpentry, either in Hershey or near her grandmother in Hayes.
Bekket is now a full-time parent to Noah thanks to Trevor’s grandfather figure, a welder at Newport News who came into the family’s life about five years ago. And she’s forever grateful for this mysterious mailbox flyer.
“Trevor and the girls love coming home and showing us all they can do,” she said. “Our story has been so heartbreaking for so long, but MHS takes us in a different way.”
Alison Johnson, [email protected]