The late Antone Raymus built many homes in his life.
The number is somewhere to the north of 2,000.
But that achievement pales compared to the foundation he poured and the framework he established to give kids a chance to succeed in life.
On Thursday, Give Every Child a Chance marks its 20th anniversary. The non-profit free tutoring organization is staging an open house from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Manteca Senior Center, 295 Cherry Lane.
GECAC wouldn’t exist of it wasn’t for Raymus’ hard head and big heart and a willingness to put his money on the table.
During the two decades, in excess of 50,000 students have benefited from free one-on-one tutoring and mentoring, after school enrichment programs, and homework assistance efforts. Most lifted their command of math, reading and other academic skills by at least a grade level when they completed tutoring.
GECAC has been showcased as a model and effective non-profit by federal and state educators.
Most in Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon and other communities served by GECAC and its small army of dedicated volunteers ranging from fourth graders to those nearing 90 take the organization for granted because it seems to always be there. It’s not that they don’t appreciate the efforts it’s just that it has been so effective and works seamlessly with Manteca Unified and other school districts.
But that wasn’t always the case.
In fact for years when Raymus was racking his brain to come up with a way he could help give kids a chance at a better future most people, for want of a better way to explain it, humored him.
He invited elected leaders, judges, educators, and community leaders to meet with him in his office to brainstorm ideas.
Raymus would share of how he was touring the California Youth Authority with fellow Manteca Kiwanis Club members when suddenly a ward that was working on a project slammed it to the ground in frustration.
He asked those he invited into his office the same thing he asked himself that day, “what could have been done to help that young man so he wouldn’t get so frustrated that he wouldn’t of ended up throwing his life away?”
It was a scene that dogged him for years.
After hearing the story and how he wanted to help young people who were struggling in life, some suggested he commission a book to serve as a guide. Others suggested a movie. He finally landed on a plan that was deep rooted in his life — making it possible for kids struggling in school that needed help to get the attention they needed.
Raymus remember how as a frustrated young immigrant struggling in the fourth grade in a rural school east of Manteca how a teacher went out of her way after class to tutor him.
It was then that the idea to launch a free community-based tutoring program popped up.
But again, no one was sure that it was going to work, especially Manteca Unified administrators who were more than skeptical about whether Raymus knew what he was doing.
Raymus, however, didn’t go from riding into Manteca on a back of a pickup truck with his family from the Bay Area to be the most revered name in home building in Manteca’s history without being smart.
He hired a person who could open doors with the school district — retired Manteca High Principal Bill Jones. Not only did Jones believe in the objective but he was the perfect bridge giving the fledgling non-profit Raymus bankrolled with $300,000 of his money credence with educators.
It started that first year with several dozen students needing help and a handful of volunteers. Carol Davis took over as the GECAC chief executive officer and built on Jones’ foundation for 17 years. Today under the leadership of Christina Keefhaver nearly 4,000 students are helped by GECAC in any given year through the effort of 300 volunteers and a paid staff of 200.
Raymus understood what it was like to struggle and to dislike school because he couldn’t master subjects. He didn’t start Give Every Child a Chance because of his ego. There were those —including educators — who literally thought he was nuts at first. It wouldn’t work, they argued. There wouldn’t be enough volunteers. It would be difficult to get teachers on board. Raymus never gave up. More precisely, Raymus never gave up on kids that he never met. Raymus at a time in life when most of us would be content to sit back and enjoy the autumn of our years, kept forging ahead with his dream to give every child a chance to succeed in school so they could avoid ending up going down the wrong path in life. He knew that once you lost a kid because they couldn’t keep up in school, you’ve lost them for life. No one can dispute the overwhelming success of Give Every Child a Chance, the last in a long line of Raymus’ giving back to the community he so loved. It’s ironic, in a way, that most of us simply had come to expect such good works from Raymus to the point we virtually took them for granted. Make no doubt about it. Raymus didn’t walk on water. He was a no-nonsense businessman who stayed the course. The young teen who used to struggle to get to first period at Manteca High because he had to help feed and milk the cows before heading off to school knew the value of hard work. He also embraced family friends, and his community with the same passion. And, perhaps most important, he never let clouds darken his ability to dream. Raymus left a legacy that can’t be described in words. In an interview in 2015, Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer shared how he doesn’t like tossing around the moniker “hero.”
“I don’t believe very many people earned the right to be called that,” Messer said.
He makes a big exception, though, for one man — the late Antone Raymus.
Messer said if it wasn’t for Raymus’ dogged determination and refusal to take no for an answer, arguably the most effective partner in helping Manteca Unified teach students — Give Every Child a Chance — would not exist.
Test results show that children involved with the free tutoring program — many who are struggling and are on course to fail before being referred to the community-based effort — end up getting a better grasp on learning. Eighty percent of students with GECAC end up gaining at least a year’s worth of education comprehension.
And while Messer knows there are other programs out there, he doesn’t believe they would have as major of an impact as GECAC.
“What makes GECAC work is there is a high level of trust that teachers have,” Messer said.
By that he means teachers know the organization trains volunteers and enhances what takes place in the classroom through close collaboration with schools.
It’s quite a legacy for a young fourth grader who once hated school because he was lost in class.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com