Be The Change: Tom Gunter – Volunteer Extraordinaire

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Ask any classroom teacher about the value of a good volunteer, and they will say that it is a gift beyond measure. Bob Causey, fourth grade teacher at Sisson School in Mt. Shasta, says, “Five years ago when Tom Gunter volunteered to help out in my fourth grade classroom because his grandson Shaun was in the class, I could not have imagined how much I would come to rely upon, respect and enjoy his company.”

Tom relays that what he receives from volunteering goes beyond what he gives. “Working with the children is so rewarding,” he says. “At first it’s a little intimidating, then it just becomes fun. I can’t imagine not doing this.”

Tom, a single grandparent, has raised Shaun since he was one month old. When Shaun turned 3, Tom adopted him. “It’s the best thing I ever did,” he reveals.

art-1014-btc2When Shaun entered kindergarten, Tom considered ways to impart the value of education. “Shaun drew me into volunteering in the classroom,” he says. “I thought by working in the school it would show him that I value education and that schooling is important for him.” Not only did Shaun enjoy having his grandpa in his classroom, Tom got hooked and has remained a volunteer for 10 years.

While many classroom volunteers work one or two days a week for an hour or two each stint, Tom shows up every day and stays for the day. He followed Shaun’s class up through sixth grade, then returned to the fourth grade because, he says, “sixth grade math was too hard!” He’s been with Bob Causey for five years now. “He’s an outstanding teacher,” says Tom.

Tom’s workday includes assisting with the art program, filing, grading papers, giving spelling tests, and monitoring the children on their computerized accelerated math program. Most importantly, he relates with the children on a personal basis. In fact, the children call him Papa. One student says, “I can talk to Papa about anything.” Shaun reports that his grandpa was supportive and helpful in the classroom. “He was always willing to help out. And he always handed out candies!”

Including community members in school programs brings community and schools together in a healthy way. Volunteers can assist with tasks, freeing teachers to work more closely with students. Kale Riccomini, Sisson School principal, says, “In schools today, we are trying to do more with less money. Having a volunteer like Tom who comes in every day allows the teacher the opportunity to work with small groups and individual children.”

Tom had a 42-year career as a railroad conductor with the Southern Pacific and Union Pacific railroads. Twenty years ago he moved from Arizona to Mt. Shasta, where his route was from Dunsmuir to Stockton and back. He retired from the railroad service in 2006.

Tom’s retirement gave him more time to volunteer. He sees his primary role as being available to children as a “grandpa” who can assist them in their social and emotional growth. “Fourth grade children are apprehensive about having entered middle school,” he says. “They are in that age between being a kid and a young man or woman. Sometimes they need to talk to someone who understands.”

art-1014-btc3When not volunteering or serving in his parenting role, Tom enjoys playing the guitar and fishing. He likes driving and listening to music. Being involved in Shaun’s life is a priority. “It’s important for parents to stay involved with their children,” he says. “They need to talk with them, play with them, and volunteer in their activities. It’s more fun than people know.”

Tom treats all the children he works with as if they were his own children or grandchildren. “I am fortunate,” he says. “I am working with our most valuable resource: our children. I am investing in our future.”

Tom Gunter can be contacted at (530) 604-0252. 

The mission of our Be the Change column is to feature a community member from the North State who is actively making a difference in community life. If you would like to nominate someone who is making a difference, please write to pn@northstateparent.com.

Carolyn Warnemuende
About Carolyn Warnemuende

Author Carolyn Warnemuende has two daughters and five grandchildren, and lives with her husband in Redding. She writes parenting and educational articles, sponsors a school in Uganda, and visits Africa twice a year. She receives great joy in taking daily care of her four-year-old granddaughter who was adopted from Ethiopia.

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