A Servant’s Heart

One of our core programs at the Ronald McDonald House for several decades has been our volunteer meal group program. Our families often spend 12-16 hours at the hospital caring for their sick children, or in many cases, are going back and forth every 2-3 hours around the clock, with only a few hours to nap, shower, and grab a bite to eat somewhere in the midst of all the chaos. Through our volunteer meal program, we strive to partner with caring hearts in the community to prepare and serve meals to our families, so that nailing down a dinner plan each night is one last thing they need to worry about.

One of the volunteers who has been active in this program for the past decade and a half is Lance Culbert, an educator at Canyon High School, who was recently named Teacher of the Year. Lance first got plugged into the meal group program as a volunteer at the Ronald McDonald House when he became the sponsor for the school’s Key Club chapter. That was back in 2004 at a time when their crosstown rivals at Randall were already serving two meals every month for our families. Canyon’s Key Club reached out to Raiderland and offered to take one of those slots each month. They now have a pretty impeccable track record of making it out to the House once each month for the past 16 years to lend a hand in our kitchen….that’s more than 150 meals!

Lance is an area native, growing up in the “booming metropolis” of Texline, Texas! A career in education must have been in his blood. Both of his parents taught at the schools in their community for 35 years, and with the great but quaint city of Texline being on the smaller on the side, Lance ended up sitting in 12 of their classes by the time he graduated from high school in 1990! Upon graduating, Lance attended WTAMU where he majored in Biology, graduating with his BA with additional teaching certifications in biology and computer information systems, upon completing his student teaching at Canyon High School. After spending one year in the classroom at Highland Park ISD’s science department, Lance found his way back to CHS (Go Eagles!), where he has spent the last 24 years and currently teaches courses in business management, computer/web courses, and serves as the chair of the business & computer education department, coaches UIL in computer applications and computer science, and if he wasn’t already busy enough, continues to serve as the Key Club advisor.

The part of teaching that Lance finds most rewarding has evolved over his more than two decades in the classroom:

“I used to say the “light bulb” moment when student suddenly grasped a difficult concept. But after a lot of years, I would say the most rewarding thing is when former students visit and let me know that the relationship I had built with them made a difference. It’s hardly ever the subjects we covered in class that students remember but the fact that they had a trusted adult who was really in their corner. One of my favorite students participated in a year-end wrap-up video project that was presented to the entire district. She started off with “I really did not like Mr. Culbert at all for about six weeks … and then I figured out his sense of humor and that he wanted the best for us.” That is really one of my favorite memories … a student who figured out and appreciated that I want the best for my students.”

The most difficult part of the job for Lance these days is seeing the burdens and struggles that so many kids have to carry with them to school. He feels this has changed greatly for the worse since he first began his career, and hopes he is able to help these students by taking on the role of a mentor. Providing “quiet service” was a gift that Lance noted in his mom’s life, and feels that RMHC also fulfills that role as an organization that strives to provide hospitality, comfort, and support in a home-like environment to families with sick children. Over the years, he has even heard from many students volunteering with them who have had a personal experience or family connection the Ronald McDonald House.

This isn’t Lance’s first time winning teacher of the year at Canyon High School. He also won in 2013, which is the year his mom passed away. Despite dealing with this loss and family grief, his students still managed to make it to the Ronald McDonald House to cook their monthly meal, even while Lance was away for the funeral and unable to sponsor.

“In 2013, my Mom was diagnosed with cancer on the Thursday of Spring Break and passed away two days later. The CHS Key Club was scheduled to cook dinner at RMH the day before the funeral and I called RMH and canceled because I knew I wouldn’t be there and they had to have an adult sponsor. Of course, the people at RMH were gracious and said they absolutely understood. However, my students had a different plan. They found another teacher to come work with them, touched base with RMH, and cooked dinner as planned. On top of that, they took up a collection and gave it to RMH in memory of my mother. Out of all the many wonderful memories I have over my years at CHS, this one is my absolute favorite. People think that teachers take care of students but those students taught me that sometimes the kids take care of their teachers. I try never to take that for granted any more.”

We are so grateful for Lance’s continued support for all of these years and are thankful we have had the chance to meet so many inspiring teens he has brought out to the House to serve all of this time. If you happen to run into him in a McDonald’s, chances are high you will find him ordering a box of Chicken McNuggets, which was the comfort food that helped get him through his college career. Thanks for everything you do, and congrats on winning Teacher of the Year…again!