High School Students Raise Enough Money to Help Elderly Custodian Retire… Again

James Gailey had already retired. At 80 years old, he was enjoying time in the North Texas community of Callisburg, which is near the Oklahoma border.

It’s a small town, with a population of about 300 people. The local school district works on a $12.5 million budget, has two campuses, and supports over 1,100 students in the rural area.

Although Gailey had no intention of returning to the workforce, he had no choice when his monthly rent was raised by $400. Since he couldn't afford that cost, "Mr. James," as the students call him, started working as a school janitor.

Three students decided that they could do something about this situation. Greyson Thurman, Banner Tidwell, and Marti Yusko created a GoFundMe page and shared his story on TikTok. [1]

“No 80-year-old should have to work because they have to,” said Tidwell. “It should be because they want to do it. It bothered us that he had to have a place to work to keep his house.” [2]

The Students Hoped to Raise $10,000 for Mr. James

When the student trio started the campaign, their goal was to get Mr. James some extra money to help with his rent issues. The page was disabled only nine days later, raising an impressive $270,000.

“It’s amazing, “said Jason Hooper, the principal of Callisburg High School. “The need that was met because of three kind kids – of all our students who pitched in to meet that need.” [3]

Many of the donations to the GoFundMe page are from students and staff at Callisburg, with most of them only $5 or $10 each.

Gailey wants to avoid any attention from the viral campaign. He only worked for a month when the students stepped in to raise enough money to help him return to retirement.

“Our kids saw a need, went out, and met it,” Hooper said.

Mr. James Says He Is Ready to Return to a Comfortable Life

At the time of researching and writing this story, Mr. James said that he was ready to return to retirement and live "the comfortable life." According to Hooper, no timetable was set for him to leave the school.

“It is crazy to see something that, we knew people would have wanted to help,” said Yousko. “We didn’t know it would blow up.” [4]

“It’s what we’re about,” Hooper said. “We’re a small town. We’re family. We don’t always agree, but we love and help our own.”

Mr. James’ Story Is Not Unique in Today’s Economic Climate

According to information published by the US Department of Labor, approximately one in every six retirees is considering a return to employment. They’re searching for more financial security as inflation and other factors take a larger chunk of their monthly income. [5]

This “unretirement” trend showed that in March 2022, 3.2% of workers who retired only a year earlier were already back in the workforce.

For those facing a similar situation to Mr. James, there are some ways to avoid re-entering the workforce.

  • Plan Ahead. Consider your retirement plans early on and create a savings plan that will support you financially. Be sure to save enough money to cover your unexpected expenses.
  • Focus on Health. Take care of your physical and mental health to reduce the likelihood of needing to return to work due to the financial cost of treatment.
  • Stay Connected. Maintain social connections and friendships to avoid feelings of isolation and boredom that could lead to returning to work.
  • Invest Wisely. Make wise investment decisions and diversify your portfolio to minimize risks. Consider working with a financial advisor to ensure you're making smart wealth-building decisions.

Some retirees embrace a more frugal lifestyle to stretch their retirement savings further and minimize the need to return to work. If those options aren't available, consider a part-time position or consulting opportunities to maintain the flexibility you've earned.

What Organizations Help Retirees with Their Finances?

Several companies and associations can help people in situations where they might need financial help to stay retired. Mr. James chose to re-enter the workforce, but not everyone has that flexibility.

The National Council on Aging is a nonprofit organization that provides resources and support to older adults, including financial advice and benefits counseling.

Another option is the AARP Foundation. It provides free tax preparation services, financial counseling, and other support services to older Americans.

The Financial Planning Association is a professional organization for financial planners, many of whom specialize in retirement planning.

There is also the Society of Certified Senior Advisors that could help. This professional organization offers resources and educational opportunities to help retirees navigate their finances and work toward a secure retirement.



[1] https://www.tiktok.com/@grey.thurman/video/7200443937155288366 ; [2] https://cmmonline.com/news/students-raise-270k-to-help-80-year-old-janitor ; [3]https://www.kxii.com/2023/02/18/callisburg-high-school-student-help-80-year-old-custodian/ ; [4] https://nypost.com/2023/02/24/students-raise-270k-so-80-year-old-custodian-could-retire/; [5] https://www.hiringlab.org/2022/04/14/unretirements-rise/