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Teacher's kindness to families continues beyond the holidays

December 16, 2004

Editor's note: This series over the 12 days before Christmas recognizes those individuals and groups that make the holidays better for others.




wanda@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - Antietam Academy English teacher Mary Fortson gives her heart and soul inside and outside the classroom, principal Ivan "Ike" Williams said.

In addition to the challenges of being a full-time teacher and a single mother, Fortson has adopted families for Christmas for more than a decade.

This year, she's adopted two local families for the holidays.

"I use my own money and I enlist the help of other community resources to provide toys, food, clothing and other necessities to families with children," she said.

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Needy families are referred to her by the Washington County Board of Education, area churches and other organizations, she said.

Her relationship with her adopted families doesn't end on Christmas Day, she said.

"Helping people at Christmas is wonderful, but kids need to eat every day and they need clothing every day," she said.

To make sure that happens, Fortson teaches the parents in her adopted families how to identify and utilize community resources so they won't have to face the same financial hardships in the future.

"It's like teaching them to fish," she said.

Fellow teacher Cyndy Maser says Fortson also spreads a healthy dose of kindness and generosity to friends and colleagues.

"She's my guardian angel," Maser said.

Maser said Fortson left her class to stay by Maser's side when she was rushed to the hospital after becoming ill at school earlier this year.

"She didn't have to do it. I can't tell you how good that made me feel," Maser said.

Fortson also is part of a small group of Antietam Academy teachers that buys gifts for students at Christmas.

A teary-eyed Fortson said her dedication and compassion for others is rooted in the lessons she learned as a child.

"My mother provided food and other forms of support to other families in the neighborhood. My mother was very much a humanitarian," she said.

Friday: Becky Burley of Fayetteville, Pa.

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