Magic for her miracles

A teacher's aide wins acclaim - and $10, 000 - for her work with kids who need a hand.

Published May 12, 2007

TAMPA - When Hillsborough schools started their first-ever search for a miracle worker, the notes poured in from Seminole Heights Elementary:

....Sadie is our "clothes" queen. Whenever children are in need of uniforms, or just a change of clothes, Sadie manages to make them magically appear ...

...She has raised her own children and now raises the children of our community by opening her home to provide foster care for children that need it ...

... Always willing and capable to take the extra steps to tie a shoe, wipe a tear or provide individual assistance ...

Miracles just seemed to happen through Sadie Douglas, 64, a teacher's aide for students with disabilities, who has opened her home to 115 foster children.

On Friday, her friends at the school brought a miracle to her.

District officials sneaked a bouquet of roses into the music room. They brought in third-graders under the ruse of celebrating scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Superintendent MaryEllen Elia told the children to scream when Douglas walked in. She even let them spray Silly String.

Douglas reeled. Her hands fluttered over her eyes.

"Oh my God, " she said. Tears welled, replaced with a smile as large as the oversized check she received for $10, 000.

"This is one of the greatest and best things that could ever happen to me, " she told the crowd. "And for you kids, too, because what I have, I share with you."

Seminole teachers organized a campaign on behalf of Douglas, who was nominated for the first We Deliver award by 62 co-workers, parents and her former students. The district received nearly 700 nominations.

"There's a powerful spirit about her, " said principal Jackie Masters, 50, who first saw Douglas work with children as an aide in her classroom at Potter Elementary more than 20 years ago. "Even if she has to be tough and stern with them, they know deep inside that she cares."

Douglas started in the school district as a temporary lunchroom aide at Robles Elementary in 1982. She has also worked at Shaw and Foster elementaries.

Her husband, a pastor, has struggled through a kidney transplant, open-heart surgery, a leg amputation and a stroke. Still, they continue to serve as foster parents, currently caring for three children, ages six to 10.

Douglas, who has three grown sons, cares for children until they can be returned to their parents or adopted. She's thought of adopting, but she decided against a move that would close her home to others. She says she wants to spread her love around.

Her take-home pay, after deductions, amounts to around $200 per week, she says. With her reward money, she wants to do something nice for her family, and she has credit card debt to think about. And her school.

Within minutes of the announcement, Douglas was talking about buying new uniforms for the school's closet, where they keep free clothes for children who arrive inappropriately dressed. She wants to tailor clothes for hard-to-fit children.

"I'd like to tell you she'd spend it on herself, " said Susan Warren, a specialist for students with disabilities at Seminole Heights. "She won't."

More who deliver

The other finalists for the We Deliver award were Dora Haiat, who teaches older students with disabilities; Tammy Crawford-Morse, who is an administrator for east county adult and community programs; and Barbara Baker, a kindergarten teacher at Alafia Elementary.