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“This project lets students give a gift and recognize they’re making a difference in someone’s life, that they have talents and services they can provide to the community.”
—Lance Gunnersen, El Dorado UHSD Faculty Association

Lance Gunnersen

Lance Gunnersen

For 18 years, Lance Gunnersen has offered students an opportunity to learn and bring joy to others. Every fall, the career technical education (CTE) teacher has his woodworking and engineering students at El Dorado High School design and produce toys — cars, train cars and other items. The toys are painted by the school’s art students. Students also turn the woodshop into a holiday wonderland for the elementary school kids who come to visit and receive their gifts. The young visitors are entertained with games, food, and music by the high school band.

Stephanie Davis

Stephanie Davis

Because of the pandemic, the much-loved project was put on hold in 2020, which “devastated Lance,” says Stephanie Davis, president of El Dorado Union High School District Faculty Association. But in fall 2021 it was back on and expanded — thanks to educators’ enthusiasm and energy, and supported in large part by a CTA Community Engagement Project Grant.

The El Dorado chapter joined several other CTA chapters in El Dorado County — Gold Oak Teachers Association, Mother Lode Teachers Association, and Placerville Elementary Educators Association — to apply for the $1,000 grant. The money was primarily used for materials and supplies to make the toys, and transportation from the high school to participating elementary schools to deliver them. The grant covered about two-thirds of what was needed, with the chapters chipping in the rest.

Gunnersen and his students ramped up production from previous years’ 100 to 300 toys. “We make it like industry and figure out patterns of production,” says Gunnersen, who serves on CTA State Council’s Adult Alternative CTE Committee and is the CTE subcommittee chair. “We have a production line. Students rotate into positions at different stations.”

Other students and educators took part. “At nights, high school AVID students, middle school leadership students and teachers, parents, school board members, and superintendents helped wrap the gifts,” says Davis.

Gunnersen’s students dressed as elves to give the toys to delighted elementary school kids.

High school student dressed as elf gives toys to children

El Dorado High School student, elementary school children admire the toy cars.

“What I teach leads to lucrative careers,” says Gunnersen, explaining his thinking behind the project. “Students enjoyed what they learn but didn’t understand their newly gained skills could have positive effects in the world around them. This project lets them give a gift and recognize they’re making a difference in someone’s life, that they have talents and services they can provide to the community.”

He says he often gets calls from businesses and industry requesting talented students who are interested in working in manufacturing and construction, as it’s become increasingly harder to fill jobs for lack of a trained talent pool.

He notes that local businesses contribute to the project, making a positive influence that extends well beyond students. “Businesses, parents and the community at large get involved, from offering food and funding to helping in the woodshop.”

Davis and the presidents of the other chapters who won the community grant will likely reapply this year. Chapters representing other elementary district feeder schools may also join in for an even bigger impact on the community.

Gunnersen is ready. “I have some kids who say the event has encouraged them to sign up for my class again,” he laughs.

High school student dressed as reindeer entertains children with art projects.

El Dorado High School students dress as elves and reindeer to deliver gifts and engage children in creative activities.

CTA Community Engagement Project Grants

Many CTA chapters work with individual stakeholders and community organizations on behalf of their students. If your chapter is interested in starting a new project to explore building community connections and needs seed funding, consider applying for a CTA Community Engagement Project Grant. Contact your Regional UniServ staff or send email to

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