Solana Beach family continues to honor their son’s life through Challenge Days

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Challenge Day, a national organization dedicated to building empathy and compassion in communities, has been closed to an online-only experience from March 13, 2020 until September 1, 2021. Their in-person social and emotional learning program of Day Four, which has come to Torrey Pines High School since 2007, has positively impacted over 6,000 TPHS students and parent volunteers. 2021 Challenge Day TPHS Parenting Model Volunteer Diana Li said, “It was an amazing experience! It’s quite exceptional that Torrey Pines offers this to students. It changed life.

The Gauntt family established a scholarship fund at the TPHS Foundation in 2008 in memory of their son Jimmy Gauntt (above).

(Courtesy of the Gauntt family)

For the past 13 years at Torrey Pines High School, the Challenge Day program has been funded by enrichment donations from parents and students to the TPHS Foundation. New this year, more than half of the event’s funding came from the Gauntt family, longtime Solana Beach residents. They felt compelled to lead the remainder of their son’s memorial fund to help the more than 425 TPHS students and 125 parent volunteers have a life-changing emotional connection experience.

Casey and Hilary Gauntt, along with their daughter and son-in-law, Brittany and Ryan Kirby (both graduates of TPHS), established a scholarship fund at the TPHS Foundation in 2008 in memory of their son, Jimmy, who was hit and killed by a car on the Del Dios highway when he was only 24 years old. The fund, donated by parents and friends of Jimmy’s, has donated over $ 90,000 to 41 Torrey Pines high school graduates over the past 13 years. Jimmy, who graduated from TPHS in 2002, served as senior class president, played four years of football, ran three years in track and field, was voted Homecoming Prince and “cutest guy” by his peers. He has been an AP Fellow, Boys State Finalist, Member of the National Honor Society, recipient of the Dartmouth Book Award, Golden Falcon Award (most acclaimed TPHS honor) and won the prestigious scholarship of the USC.

While at USC, Jimmy majored in English and Spanish Literature, studied abroad in Madrid and London, became fluent in Spanish, and wrote, performed and produced three plays. A Phi Betta Kappa graduate from USC in 2006, he was a talented saxophonist and prolific reader of Shakespeare, DH Lawrence, and James Joyce, among others. By the time of Jimmy’s death in 2008, he had just completed his fourth screenplay titled “Now is the Time”. Like Jimmy, students who had a passion for studying literature, fine and performing arts in college could apply for the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Scholarship each year through Torrey Pines High School. Nominations were reviewed and recipients selected by the Gauntt family.

When the Gauntt family were approached by the Executive Director of the TPHS Foundation, Zephyr Fletcher, in early March 2021 to see if they would like to make an impact on the lives of over 425 young adults by redirecting the remaining portion of their son’s memorial fund Towards the Challenge Days at TPHS, Casey Gauntt said, “The opportunities for students to connect are vitally important as they re-emerge from this extended period of isolation imposed by COVID. We would be happy to redirect the balance of “Jimmy Dollars” to your Challenge Days program. “

Students wearing Challenge Day t-shirts.

Students wearing Challenge Day t-shirts.

(Courtesy of the TPHS Foundation)

Since Jimmy’s death, retired lawyer Casey Gauntt has dedicated his life to making connections with people who overcome the emotional hardships of death and mourn the loss of a child. Gauntt not only lost his son, but he also lost his own father to suicide when he was only 20 years old. In a March 28, 2021 San Diego Union-Tribune article, Gauntt said he encountered families so devastated by the loss of a child that they never got over it. He found that the most successful families in dealing with their grief are the ones who channel it in positive ways, such as creating foundations and scholarships on behalf of their children as a lasting legacy, “or really anything that helps others.” .

Due to funding provided by the Jimmy Gauntt Memorial Fund, Torrey Pines High School, under the COVID protocols of the San Dieguito Union High School District, has been authorized to host in-person challenge days from October 12-15. This program has had a national impact on more than 2,700 schools in 33 years and 1.7 million students and adults. This year, for the first time, the Challenge Day was sold out in advance at TPHS.

“We (the staff at Torrey Pines) knew that coming out of COVID this year, the Challenge Days would be needed more than any other year,” said Rob Coppo, director of TPHS. “Knowing that life’s emotions and challenges could be at an all time high due to isolation, the Foundation (TPHS) contacted Challenge Day in early 2021, to monitor progress of reopening to in-person experiences. We were grateful that they were able to come this year.

Don Collins, TPHS Social and Emotional Outreach Professor, exclaimed, “Wouldn’t it be great to go to a school where everyone feels safe, loved and celebrated! With Challenge Day we have the opportunity to create this safe environment for a day and hope this experience will encourage the maintenance of empathy and tolerance. “

Jeff Owen, TPHS PALS teacher and Challenge Week Staff Coordinator, summed up: “Challenge Day is a six-hour workshop held in the TPHS Gymnasium providing a structured platform that gives all students a special opportunity to connect with their peers to overcome difficulties or insecurities, learn about tolerance, empathy and repression of social signals and stereotypes.

Beach ball at Challenge Day

Beach ball at Challenge Day

(Courtesy of the TPHS Foundation)

To start the day, parent volunteers and student leaders greeted the students in a long tunnel, cheering and cheering them on along the way. The early morning consisted mainly of games and icebreakers to help the students have fun and feel comfortable. Then the students and parents were divided into small groups of five to six, where they had about two minutes each to share what they wanted. There was no limit or restriction on what they could share with their “family circle”.

At the end of this activity, most of the students agreed that they felt closer to this small group of people than some of the students they had attended school with for years. One of the most moving activities of the day was called “Crossing the Line”. In this activity, students would cross the line if a statement or situation stated by the facilitators applied to them. Not only did this allow students to recognize that their peers were going through more than they originally thought, but it also made them realize that they were not alone. Students and parents crossed the line with them and offered them a hug or shoulder to cry on. Those who have not crossed the line have implemented the gestural gesture “I love you” as a support.

“The first thing my son said when he got home from school was ‘Challenge Day was so awesome mom!’

Traci Acers, TP Parent, Foundation Board Member and Challenge Day Coordinator, said: “The Challenge Day program has been an absolutely inspiring empathetic social and emotional learning adventure to coordinate. Acer’s husband Trever said of his one-day volunteering experience from 7:30 am to 1:30 pm: “I think I got more emotions out of volunteering for that day than almost anything. what I have volunteered for in the past. Zephyr Fletcher, Executive Director of the TPHS Foundation, commented, “When I lost my father to a sudden heart attack while I was graduating from eighth grade, my family’s world fell apart. It would have been amazing to have Challenge Days to connect emotionally with others who may have gone through something so upsetting. I cannot thank the Gauntts enough for their decision to use the Jimmy’s Memorial Fund to reach so many people in our school this week. I’m pretty sure Jimmy helped them spiritually in some way or another with their hard-hitting decision.

If you would like this program to remain funded at Torrey Pines, donate to TPHS Classroom and Student Enrichment in support of Challenge Days and visit: www.torreypinesfoundation.org/donate/ – Press release from the TPHS Foundation

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