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Laguna Hills man helping schools wins car

The Capistrano Unified maintenance worker buys a $50 ticket for a district raffle; his wife will drive the prize -- a 2010 Toyota Prius.

November 28, 2009|By Seema Mehta
  • Robert Gonzalez, in the new Prius, and his children, from left, Alixander, 4; Ganessa, 6; and Audriana, 7
Robert Gonzalez, in the new Prius, and his children, from left, Alixander,… (Christine Cotter / Los Angeles…)

Robert Gonzalez has worked for the Capistrano Unified School District for two decades, mostly at an elementary school for special-needs children. The maintenance man has survived years of budget cuts and layoffs, and worries whether his livelihood will be affected.

So when he heard that a nonprofit foundation was raffling off a car to raise money for the district's schools, he decided to buy a ticket for $50.

"I thought even if I didn't win, something can go to the school," said Gonzalez, who repairs air conditioners at the district's 56 schools.

The Laguna Hills resident received the shock of his life this month when he received a phone call saying he had won the 2010 Toyota Prius.

"I was pretty excited," said Gonzalez, 42. "I have never won anything. And my kids were there and they got all excited too."

The "Keys to the Future" raffle was created by the CUSD Foundation, which raises money for the south Orange County district's schools.

Like most school districts throughout California, Capistrano Unified has seen stinging state funding reductions in recent years and has had to cut tens of millions of dollars in spending.

One of the foundation's biggest fundraisers is the raffle. This year, more than 1,300 tickets were sold, and the group raised about $55,000, said foundation manager Linda Wright. The charcoal-gray Prius was donated by Capistrano Toyota.

"It was wonderful," Wright said. "It doesn't matter who wins, but for a district employee to win, and he bought one ticket, it was just so great."

School board trustee Mike Winsten said it was heart-warming to see residents coming together to support education despite the tough economy.

"It's huge. Every dollar, its effect is almost multiplied in a situation like this," he said. The participation shows "a commitment to their children and a commitment to public schools, and it's a commitment to doing what they feel they can to make an impact."

At a recent reception, hundreds of ticket-holders gathered at the dealership to watch a child pluck the winning ticket out of a barrel. But Gonzalez couldn't attend because his wife was working at her job as a cashier at Albertson's, so he was watching their three young children. The Prius will replace her 1992 Honda Accord.

"She's the one who needs it the most," he said.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

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