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Helping students in need in honor of his son

New York Teacher
Helping students

Peter Whitehouse and his late wife established the Christopher Whitehouse Foundation in memory of their son (inset).

A few months after their middle son, Christopher, died in March 1997 at age 29, Peter and Patricia Whitehouse were invited to Gainesville, Florida, for a day of remembrance in his honor.

Peter Whitehouse, who had retired from teaching the year before, thought he would be asked to speak about Christopher and what he had accomplished during his short life. Christopher — a 1986 graduate of Tottenville HS, where his dad was a history teacher and track-and-field coach — had been studying for his doctorate in psychology at the University of Florida and counseling youths in the juvenile justice system.

But it was the other way around.

The speakers during a memorial service at a facility where Christopher did field work “were there to tell me what I didn’t know about my son and what he did for each of them,” said Whitehouse.

Christopher had become an informal counselor, helping the youths at the facility. In one case, his father recalled, Christopher paid for an air conditioner and an electrical line for a boy with breathing issues who had trouble sleeping in his family’s substandard housing.

“The kid was so grateful,” Whitehouse said. “It showed him there are people in this world you haven’t met yet who are friends.”

Stories like that inspired Whitehouse and his wife, who died in 2018, to create the Christopher Whitehouse Foundation in 1999. The venture got a jumpstart from a $1,500 check sent by a University of Florida dean who knew Christopher well and had taken up a collection.

“Our job is to help students in need, and when other agencies can’t or won’t, we’re there,” said Whitehouse, who serves as the foundation’s president.

As president, he reviews requests for assistance from the foundation and works with a board of directors to approve funding. The foundation gives small, meaningful grants — anonymously — for expenses such as SAT and college application fees, sports team dues, senior year events, tutoring and Chromebooks for students to do homework. Christopher once bought a suit for a young man who couldn’t afford a decent interview outfit, so that is also on the list.

The foundation has given out larger grants as well, such as funding for a basketball coach who trains disadvantaged youths. Each year, the foundation notifies counselors, teachers, coaches and others that financial aid is available on Staten Island and beyond.

Whitehouse and his surviving sons, Peter Jr. and David, still feel the loss of Christopher, who was a ball of energy, enthusiasm and creativity. But they feel strongly that his life served a bigger purpose. Helping young people with needs, or even taking them to an amusement park for a day, brought Christopher joy.

“His life was full and complete,” his father said. “Look at all the things he did through 29 years. He had an impact that was far-ranging.”

An impact Whitehouse continues through the foundation.

Related Topics: Retired Teachers