We never considered ourselves to be part of a statistic. As a husband-and-wife duo who owned and operated a business for 16 years, we forged our path by relying on solid experience, in-depth knowledge, and excellent decision-making abilities. Together, we took pride in every accomplishment made possible by our shared vision and hard work. But as empty nesters prepared to soon sell our business, we found ourselves in a place we had never been—uncertain.
We knew before officially retiring that we would be among the retirees, 57% according to a recent report by T. Rowe Price, who want to continue working in some form. We just weren’t certain what we wanted our second act to be.
Our independent careers and joint business put us among the 45% of people who choose to work in retirement for the social and emotional benefits versus the 48% of retirees working for financial reasons, like offsetting inflation. We no longer wanted to run a company, but we both strongly felt we had more left in the tank.
The word ‘retirement’ conjures up images of golf courses and leisurely afternoons for some, but our vision was different. We wanted to stay active, enjoy what we were doing, and retain a sense of purpose. Running a business while raising two children kept us perpetually busy, but also feeling young and connected to our New Kensington community outside of Pittsburgh. Amy even chaired the board of a nonprofit medical clinic that significantly improved access to health care for low-income families in a five-county area. We wanted to do even more. With retirement on the horizon, we thought it was time to pursue our passion for service to others. It was time to become houseparents at Milton Hershey School.
In the ‘90s, we first learned about houseparenting at MHS, a private school where students from lower-income families live on campus, through an article in the now-defunct Pittsburgh Press. Every few years we talked about it, but the timing wasn’t right for our family or business—until it was. In 2015, with our children grown and both of us ready to sell our business, we began discussing houseparenting again and applied.
Going back to work was about finding a second act in life—something that was different from what we had done up until that point but where the skills we developed as parents, business owners, and community leaders and volunteers would make a difference for kids.
During the hiring process, we visited a student home on campus. It was being in that student home that sealed the deal for us. We remember meeting one little girl in particular who made a big impression on us. We could envision ourselves as houseparents and knew without a doubt that we could make a positive impact. On top of that, the campus was nicer than some colleges and we valued that we would have the proper resources to support children without the responsibility of fundraising, like other nonprofits.
We were hired, sold our business, and moved to campus in 2016. We quickly formed bonds with other houseparents, sharing best practices for running a house of up to 12 kids. This is our eighth school year at MHS. We spent seven of those years as houseparents to elementary-aged girls and wouldn’t trade those years for anything. Being a houseparent is like being a professional mentor. We help students with their homework, guide them when they struggle, ask them about their day, cook meals for them, and model healthy relationships. Above all, we take pride in helping the girls in our student home develop a toolkit of qualities, like harnessing their voices and advocating for themselves, that will make them self-sufficient, confident adults.
When we became houseparents, we were so focused on the ways we would help students that we overlooked another important aspect—the impact the school community would have on us. We learned just how vital this community was to us when Jeff developed cancer. Fellow houseparents and MHS staff rallied around us. They took our girls to activities and spent time with them, ran errands for us, helped wrap Christmas presents, and so much more. We were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support. It made getting through the months on Jeff’s road to remission more manageable in every way and reinforced that we made the right choice in coming to MHS.
We started this journey ready to embark on our second act. Today, we are certain we found a second calling—one where our desire to help others in significant ways was met with a new purpose in caring for and mentoring children as they break through a cycle of poverty.
Retirement doesn’t have to mean the end of something. Like us, your retirement can be a whole new beginning—one with purpose, love, challenges that change children’s lives, and a guarantee your time will always be meaningfully spent. Explore a second act as a houseparent and find your second calling.
Amy and Jeffery Vigilante are houseparents at Milton Hershey School, longtime residents of New Kensington, Pennsylvania, and the former owners of Vigilante Specialty Products.