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80-year-old janitor couldn't afford rent, students come to his rescue

80-year-old Mr. James needed help making ends meet after his rent increased. Students at a Texas high school wanted to help.
Posted at 4:00 PM, Feb 24, 2023

Mr. James, as the students at Callisburg High School in Gainesville, Texas, call him, began showing up last month to clean the school building. 

Students noticed that the janitor struggled with some of the grueling tasks asked of cleaning staff. 

“I noticed him in the hallway about two weeks ago, three weeks ago, probably. And I just felt so bad for him seeing him struggle to walk and just do normal things,” said high school senior Banner Tidwell. 

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Tidwell asked one of the school’s English teachers if Mr. James actually wanted to work, or if he had to. 

“That really, like made me feel like we had to help him after learning what his situation was with his house and the rent and all of that,” Tidwell said. 

That’s when Tidwell had an idea. With the assistance of Greyson Thurman and other students, he launched a GoFundMe campaign to assist Mr. James. 

In just 10 days, the fundraiser garnered over $250,000. Thurman created a TikTok video that members of their community shared. 

“Every time I show him the numbers here, he just kind of hits you with a little, ‘That's nice,” Thurman said. “I mean, what can you really say, you know? It's, it's a lot of money. It's really shocking getting that out of nowhere.”

@grey.thurman Go fund me is in the bio! My classmates and I hate seeing Mr. James here, no one his age should have to be cleaning our messes up to continue to live. #fyp#school#gofundme#fy#mrjames ♬ snowfall - Øneheart & reidenshi

Donations flooded in from around the U.S. and Canada. 

“We never, ever would have thought that it would get to this, ever,” Tidwell said. “It's like indescribable because I'm just so thankful that he can finally go back into retirement and stop having to work and enjoy his life. And not have to worry about money or anything after all this.”

School principal Jason Hooper, who said he has known Thurman and Tidwell since elementary school, said he was proud of his students’ actions. 

“The work ethic is what I hope our kids see,” Hooper said. “Because I mean, to me, you don't have to say anything, to make an impact on somebody. And so I hope our kids have seen that work ethic of, you know, hey, 'I'm not willing just to take a handout, I want to go and work and do what I have to do for my family, even when I don't want to.'”

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The students said that Mr. James plans on retiring. But even with a six-figure check on its way from GoFundMe, he was at work on Friday.

“It's like freeing someone from jail, you know, giving them life back,” Thurman said. “Helping him get his life back and live. Live the rest of it, see new things.”

Principal Hooper said Mr. James is someone who does not like attention and generally is very quiet. When asked if there would be a retirement party for him, he said the janitor would not want one.