Leah Berenson
Leah Berenson
March 1, 2023 ·  4 min read

Students raised $200k to help 80-year-old school janitor retire after rent hike sent him back to work

Although the world is full of reasons not to smile, occasionally, good people come along who give us a reason to do so. It’s even more heartwarming when those people are students. When a janitor was forced to come out of retirement because he couldn’t afford to live, the students at his school started a GoFundMe page to help.

Forced Out of Retirement

Mr. James, an 80-year-old janitor at Callisburg High School in Texas, was on his way to enjoying retirement when things took a turn. Unfortunately, his monthly rent went up by around $400 and he could no longer pay rent, alongside his other monthly expenses. As a result, he was forced to come back to work.

When the beloved janitor was forced out of retirement, Greyson Thurman turned to TikTok for help. A couple of students approached him, including, Marti Yousko, with the idea. “It got brought up the other day in class and me and my friend Banner were like, you know what we should start a GoFundMe, you know like those things people do on TikTok and it goes viral.” Yousko said.

@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

At the time, Thurman had 2,000 followers. Therefore, the students believed he’d help quickly spread the news to raise the funds for Mr. James’ retirement. “Hey guys, I’m having a fundraiser for our janitor who is struggling to pay his rent. He had to leave retirement to continue to pay his rent that was raised. Just a little will change his life!” Thurman explained in the video.

Going Viral and Making Positive Strides

Apparently, the students’ idea had been a success because the results were better than they expected. What had started as a plan to raise $10,000 with the help of only 2,000 followers quickly grew well beyond that. Before long, they had surpassed their goal by more than 20x. The video now has more than 20,000 views and 7,000 donations. As of Thursday, Feb.23rd, 2023, the total funds raised for Mr. James’ retirement was up to $217,000. “We knew being in a small town like Callisburg that people would want to help, and people would want to support us, especially with something like this, but I don’t think we ever imagined that there’d be, like, news channels here,” Yousko said.

Jason Hooper is the principal at Callisburg High. He also commented on the plans to help fund Mr. James’ retirement. “He’s a hard worker. He’s an older man, so he doesn’t get around like the students do, but he’s a worker,” he said, continuing to explain that Mr. James was “very appreciative” of the students and contributors but didn’t “want any part of the spotlight.” According to Yousko Mr. James is sweet, and very shy and quiet.

Choosing to Come Out of Retirement

Although Mr. James was forced out of retirement, it seems that many Americans are coming out of retirement. Suppose you’re like me; your first thoughts probably had something to do with the rising cost of living. In contrast, it turns out people are coming out of retirement by choice. According to a survey posted on Joblist, only 27% returned to work because they needed the money. Another 21% returned to work, worried that inflation will continue to rise, dwindling their retirement savings.

In contrast, 60% of workers came out of retirement because they were bored. Kevin Harrington is the CEO of Joblist and explains, “Many people struggle with how to spend their time after they retire and miss the social connection that work provides.” It turns out the number are higher post-pandemic, but not out of financial necessity. Isolation became a major part of the world during the pandemic and that led to even more boredom and loneliness. Coming out of retirement has given a whole generation of people a reason to engage with others.

Feeling a Little Nervous

Despite most people leaving retirement by choice, around 30% say they feel some stress or anxiety about it. They are plagued with many questions, such as how to prepare for an interview or understand more than just the basics of today’s technology. Post-pandemic, younger workers are “quietly quitting” the jobs in which they feel undervalued. Simply put, they’re doing the absolute bare minimum leading up to officially quitting. In contrast, those who’ve retired are doing the exact opposite, in what some would call, “quiet returning.”

This sweet story highlights a few things. Firstly, a group of kindhearted students worked together to help a sweet and hardworking man, and a community of people, and then some, worked together to help these kids achieve their goals. Secondly, and unfortunately, it also highlights the hardships felt by some Americans as inflation rises. However thirdly, it also highlights a whole generation of people who’ve changed the workforce entirely.

By voluntarily coming out of retirement, these workers have demonstrated the importance of feeling like they have a purpose, interacting with others, and that a little extra money is always a welcomed blessing no matter how old you are.  

Keep Reading: Janitor Drops to His Knees After Coworkers Helped to Raise Over $49,000 for New Truck


  1. Not quietly quitting but quietly returning, older workers are changing work and retirement.” Forbes. Joseph Coughlin. September 2, 2022.
  2. Students raised more than $200,000 for their 80-year-old school janitor to retire after a rent hike sent him back into the workforce.” Insider. Mara Leighton. February 23, 2023.