WESTMINSTER >> Meranda Chandler, who came to live at Kurn Hattin when she was 6 years old, is a new houseparent at the school. In a recent interview, she explained that her experience helps her relate to the children in her charge.
"I always tell them, I know your point of view, I was once a student here," she said. "They look at me and realize, She's right. They're going to be fine. I always tell them — they're fine."
At Kurn Hattin, a private philanthropic home and school for children from 5 to 15, the children live in cottages grouped by age; the 11 children in Chandler's cottage are in the middle-school years. Her job is wide-ranging.
"A houseparent is pretty much like a mother-father role," she explained. "I wake them up for school, make sure they're dressed appropriately — we have a school dress code — make sure they get to sports on time and homework is done, make sure they address their physical and emotional needs. It's a typical family role."
Chandler spent nine years at Kurn Hattin.
"I repeated seventh grade," she said. "My mother felt that maybe I wasn't ready to go to the next step, to go to high school." Kurn Hattin maintains a close relationship with the parents of its students.
When Chandler graduated, she went to Milton Hershey, a high school in Hershey, Penn.
"I've been in boarding school all my life. It was six hours from here," she recalled. "I've been away from my mom for awhile from school to school, but I knew it was best for me, a great opportunity."
She said that Milton Hershey, a much bigger school, prepared her for living on her own at college.
"Your senior year they let you live in a dorm they call Transitional Living," she explained. "When you live in TL, you're pretty much on your own. They expect you to do what you need to do on your own, without them telling you to do things at a certain time.
"Luckily I had that experience already in my senior year," she went on. "When I went to college I realized it was the same thing. At MHS we had a staff that was there to make sure everything was OK, and it was similar at a college dorm with a resident advisor."
Immediately after graduating from Milton Hershey, Chandler enrolled at New Hampshire Technical Institute in Concord, N.H., where she earned an associate's degree in early-childhood education.
"I always dreamed of working with kids," she said. "I have many goals in life. I love fashion and want to be a fashion designer, but there's something about kids — they always make me smile."
She was sitting in the living room with her mother when they saw an ad for the houseparent position at Kurn Hattin.
"I thought, Why not apply?" Chandler remembered. "I have the credentials for it, I have the background, I'm familiar with it — why not try it? I applied, and a month later I got a call. It was the month before I was graduating. I had no clue; there were so many things I wanted to do, and I knew that I wanted to balance those opportunities. I thought this might be just what I need.
"It was Carol Bazin who called me," she went on. "They wanted to know what I'd been doing with my life, and there's nothing better than knowing that a former Kurn Hattin student is successful and still on the right track.
"One downside is when I was here we had a staff member, Tom Fahner," she commented. "He was everything. He passed away. I always wish that he was here so he could see me. I'm here to make him proud and I know he's watching."
She explained how Maryjo Densereau, who now works with houseparents, has helped her along her path.
"She used to be my houseparent when I first came here," Chandler recalled. "I was a handful when I first came — but what little kid isn't? — and she had patience for me like no other. No matter how hard things could be, she never gave up on me, never judged. She watched me grow to the point where she went to all my graduations — high school and college — and now I get to work with her. There's no better support than having someone who watched you grow."
Residential Director Karen Lansberry also provides important support for Chandler.
"If it wasn't for her it wouldn't be possible for me to work here," Chandler said. "She makes a huge difference in a houseparent community. She used to be a houseparent, so she knows exactly what's best for all of us. She's a great boss.
"Each week can be different," she continued. "There might be a long week, but this is my home. As a houseparent we do so much in general, making sure the kids are ready for sports, music, performance, families...the downside could be, we don't sleep. But it's worth it. There's nothing better than waking up and realizing that you're improving a child's life; you're making them feel loved."
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com.