Author Fannie Flagg Helps Area Teachers

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) -- A New York Times best-selling author is helping area teachers, because Fannie Flagg says without one particular teacher in her life, she wouldn't be where she is today.

A white board inside Free 2 Teach in Huntsville is covered in signatures. One of them is scrawled on the inside of hundreds of new books. Below the renowned author's signature is another name you most likely don't know - Sybil Underwood. It may not mean much to you, but to Fannie Flagg, it means her life that she knows today.

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"I just believe I would have gone a whole different direction. I don't think I would have succeeded in anything," Flagg says.

Sixth grade was a tough time for Flagg. "I was very shy, I had moved from Birmingham to Foley, Alabama, and I didn't know anybody, and I was a mess," she says.

That's where Mrs. Underwood comes in. "This teacher was so sweet with me, and she would come over and talk with me, and she realized something was the matter."

Flagg says she wasn't doing well in school. Eventually, she says it was Mrs. Underwood who realized Flagg was dyslexic.  She says Mrs. Underwood started reading stories out loud in class, because that's how Flagg learned. "She sort of changed my life because I fell in love with stories," Flagg says.

She says because of Mrs. Underwood, helping teachers is something she's passionate about.

This is where Free 2 Teach comes in.

Missy Ming Smith is a board member of the organization that supplies area teachers with free school supplies. She says they were looking for someone to speak with teachers, volunteers and community leaders.

"We wanted a real person, who's on the New York Times best-seller list, to communicate to teachers what they do day in and day out is so vitally important," Smith says.

Flagg says sharing her story and telling teachers how much of a difference they can make is something she is passionate about. "I just think teachers are the unsung heroes of the world. People don't realize how really important they are to a child," Flagg says.

Flagg says she never forgot Mrs. Underwood, and remained friends with her until she died about eight years ago.

Free 2 Teach leaders say having Flagg there was an inspiration to area teachers. They say teachers were able to come in and see the community-donated school supplies they are welcome to, and speak with Flagg about her experiences.

They say from early August to the end of October, Free 2 Teach supplied area teachers with more than $100,000 worth of free school supplies.