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Port Aransas rallies behind beloved teacher fighting brain cancer

Posted at 5:57 PM, Dec 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-15 18:57:45-05

PORT ARANSAS, Texas — Dozens of businesses in Port Aransas are taking part in a fundraiser for beloved high school teacher, Thom Driver. He was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Brain Cancer in June and is currently hospitalized.

“It devastated all of us when we heard about his diagnoses. So, we wanted to be involved,” said Marnie Pate, owner and partner of Port A Escapes and Coldwell Banker.

Tiara Followell organized a fundraising raffle for Driver.

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People can purchase tickets for $5 a piece and they're entered into the raffle for one of the prizes from any of the businesses. For example, gift cards are up for grabs from area restaurants, Bella Bella Boutique, 3rd Coast Shack and more. You can also win a three night stay in a Port A vacation rental, and Mrs. Woody is awarding a $600 discount on new tires.

“Everybody really comes together," said Christian Resinger, owner of 3rd Coast Shack. "It’s one thing after another. Life happens to people and this community really bands together and is a really strong support system for everybody that lives here.”

61- year-old Driver has been a teacher for 30 years, spending the last nine teaching in Port Aransas with his wife Sally. He's spent time as the technical director teaching computer classes and before that working with students in special education.

“They look up to him," Pate said. "He mentors kids. He worked a lot in special ed and so you have to have a heart for that as well.”

Port Aransas Superintendent Sharon McKinney said Driver is one of the most respected teachers in the district by his fellow staff and students.

“Students get to choose who gives them their diploma at the end of the year when they graduate," Pate said. "And so, there’s always teachers rotating in and out for every single student to hand out diplomas. And that’s how you know how popular a teacher is when they’re up there a lot handing out diplomas. And he is one of those guys that gave away a lot of diplomas the last few years.”

That support also shows in the community as a number of businesses wanted to help out with the fundraiser, whether they knew Thom or not.

“We’re a local community that we all stick together," Christina Bell said, owner of Bella Bella Boutique and Mrs. Woody. "I don’t even know the guy, but I just think he’s an amazing story that people have come together to help so much as they have."

“We’re a small community and pretty much anybody in this town affects your life in one way or another," said Stephanie Kenigsberg, owner of Stephanie's Stuff. "This gentleman was a teacher at the school and he taught some of my kinds, and it’s a terrible time…anytime to be sick but we all just want to rally around help whenever we can.”

“We take care of our own," said Pate. "We take care of each other and we don’t think twice about it when we do it.”

Sally was able to give us this statement on behalf of her and Thom:

I lack the ability to appropriately express our gratitude for the outpouring of support and kindness we have received from Port Aransas Independent School District and the Port Aransas community.

When Thom was diagnosed in June, my principal David Swartwout, was one of the first people I called to report the findings of Thom’s biopsy. Not because I had to, but because I knew our district cared about Thom and wanted to know.

Throughout his journey, they have continuously checked in on him and provided love, support, meals, prayers and fundraisings efforts. When I was in a state of shock and distress, our district’s Human Resource Director helped me navigate through the fields of health insurance, disability insurance and FMLA.

It is not just the staff at PAISD, the students have literally brought tears to our eyes with their continued support. Through cards, Ashton Haney’s head shaving fundraiser and “Dressing up like Thom Driver day”, we know that Thom has made an impact on the lives of these young adults.

Thom is currently on hospice and cannot make it to our son’s 3rd grade Christmas concert, so tomorrow (Thursday) they are bringing the concert to our backyard. Propped up in his hospital bed, my husband will hear the beautiful sound of children singing. My son is so proud to be able to do this for his dad.

While Thom’s days with us may be short, the cards and memories from his fight will be saved, so that his son, Thommy Driver, will always know how much his father was loved. I'm not really sure how to thank the district's superintendent, our administrators, our fellow teachers, our students and the community. Thank you, is not enough.

Raffle tickets can be purchased in person at Roam Home, Bella Bella Boutique, 3rd Coast Shack and Stephanie's Stuff. You can also buy tickets from Followell on Venmo or Paypal @tiarafollowell or tiarafollowell@gmail.com. She asks you leave your phone number in the comments of the transaction so you can be contacted with your ticket number.

Tickets must be bought by the end of the day on Dec. 19. The drawing will take place Dec. 20 at 2 p.m. at Bella Bella Boutique.

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