Student honors special teacher with toy collection

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Santa Rosa Academy junior Chris Gunter visited McDonald’s in three counties to collect toys for Special Ed teacher Esther Hilleli’s classroom “Treasure Chest.”

Santa Rosa Academy junior Chris Gunter visited McDonald’s in three counties to collect toys for Special Ed teacher Esther Hilleli’s classroom “Treasure Chest.”

Chris is pictured with Esther Hilleli and some of her students. Photos provided by Cheryl Gunter

Chris is pictured with Esther Hilleli and some of her students. Photos provided by Cheryl Gunter

Christopher Gunter, a junior at Santa Rosa Academy Charter School, chose to focus his high school community service project on helping a very special teacher, Esther Hilleli, who teaches a K-2 Special Education Class at the Academy.

Christopher’s mom, Cheryl Gunter, says when Chris heard about Ms. Esther, he wanted to volunteer his services to help in her efforts with the Special Ed students.

“She brings a fresh perspective with creative ideas, using a variety of visual, auditory and kinetic strategies to engage her students in their unique learning styles,” says Cheryl. “What really inspired Chris about this teacher is that she also sponsors a yearly event called ‘Ability Awareness in Action’ – an event that invites members of the community who experience various disabilities to share their adult life experiences with the students. They speak about the importance of treating people with fairness and respect, and the need to help foster a culture of appreciation and dignity for people of all abilities in the world.”

Chris learned that Ms. Esther was in need of small toys she uses to reward her students for achieving their goals in class. He noticed that her “Treasure Chest” was literally falling apart.

With that in mind, he mapped out a route across three counties – Riverside, Orange and San Diego – asking as many McDonald’s locations as he could to help him fill a new Treasure Chest. He figured that one of the largest fast food franchise restaurants would spare a few kid’s meal toys to replenish Ms. Esther’s supply of toys.

Chris also placed an ad in The Friday Flyer and on Facebook asking for kid’s meal toy donations from neighbors, family and friends. He not only filled the Treasure Chest, but there were so many toys that he filled an extra plastic storage container.

Cheryl says, “Chris had incredible teachers that he remembers in the first years of his life at Cottonwood Canyon Elementary School. They dedicated many hours in working with him. That’s why he chose to give back to a special teacher. It’s been his honor and privilege to donate his time and help these children with unique learning styles achieve their goals.”

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Sharon Rice