Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Haitian Boy's Tale -- Hapless to Happy; Found on a Trash Heap, Now He's Ready for School in Green Cove Springs

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Haitian Boy's Tale -- Hapless to Happy; Found on a Trash Heap, Now He's Ready for School in Green Cove Springs

Article excerpt

Byline: MARY MARAGHY

Five years ago, Steven Ellis was an abused and malnourished baby, left to die on a trash pile in Haiti.

Today, he's in Green Cove Springs, riding his bike, fishing in the St. Johns River and preparing to start kindergarten at Charles E. Bennett Elementary School.

Steven was adopted in February 2004 by Martha Mayer, who has taught music in Clay County schools for 30 years and currently teaches band at Green Cove Springs Junior High.

"It's a touching and inspiring story," said Sara Guice, a school secretary and Mayer's friend. "It's a miracle that they are together."

Here's how it happened:

Mayer's husband, Roger, died of lung cancer in 2001. With her two grown daughters living on their own and the empty nest too painful, she moved to Haiti, where she had been recruited as a volunteer to teach music in summer camp years before. She fell in love with the students and returned nearly every year.

"I had never felt so charged up as a teacher. The students are so hungry for knowledge," she said. "It's a sad, sad country. And it is in our backyard. People are starving to death and dying from disease."

Mayer got a job teaching at a university for $80 a month. She also got to live on campus.

At the summer music camp in August 2003, volunteers from California brought nurses with them.

"One of the nurses, Bethany, I don't remember her last name, said, 'You are not going to believe what came into the hospital today,' " Mayer said. "She showed me a picture of what looked to me like a bat. Just a pile of bones."

The photo was of a 10-month-old, 10-pound baby. A hospital worker said the baby smiled at him from a refuse pile just outside the hospital. The baby was covered in scabies, ant bites and was suffering from tuberculosis, broken ribs and a collapsed lung.

"I cry every time I think about where he was," Mayer said. "A nasty, stinking, slimy garbage heap. He was left to die. Look at his eyes. How could anybody leave him? …

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