3rd-graders all day aren't enough; she fosters children, too

Educator Katherine Hunter's mission is to be a life-changing mentor to children. Not only does she teach and guide the children in her third-grade class at W.R. Odell Elementary School, but when she goes home she takes care of three foster children.

Now, for the third year in a row, she is organizing a toy drive for kids who probably would not receive much for Christmas otherwise.

"I could not do this without the help of the other third-grade teachers," Hunter said. "The toys will go to children that are ... in foster care in the Charlotte area."

Originally from Syracuse, N.Y., Hunter moved to North Carolina in 2004 to teach fifth grade in Charlotte Mecklenburg schools. Luckily for us, she decided to switch to the Cabarrus County schools four years ago and has been teaching third grade at Odell since.

"I want my students and all of the third-grade students to learn that they are lucky, that there are children out there that don't live with their parents or even with family members," Hunter said. "I also want them to know that some kids don't have all of the elaborate toys and clothes that they have, and that giving instead of receiving is the main purpose of the holidays."

The three foster children Hunter is raising, all younger than 9, keep her pretty busy.

"I love being a foster parent. I feel that it is important to give back to the community," she said. "I was very lucky as a child to have a safe and happy home to grow up in. I want to give that to children who are in need of a safe place to go."

The oldest of three children, Hunter thanks her mom for her strength to take on the challenging role of a foster parent.

"My mom has always encouraged her children to get involved and to make a difference. She was and still is today the biggest influence in my life," Hunter said. "If it wasn't for her, I wouldn't be able to do what I do today."

She understands that she sets an example for children.

"It is important to teach our kids that they need to get involved in the community," she said. "That change only happens if people take a stand and help out. For our students that are in foster care, I want them to know that their classmates care about what they have, and that we want them to enjoy the holiday no matter where they live or who they live with."

The foster children from Elon Homes and Schools for Children will receive the donated toys on Christmas Day. Anyone in the community who would like to contribute can drop off toys through Friday at Odell Elementary, 1215 Moss Farm Road, Concord.