Mary Seaman poses in a pink bonnet that belonged to her mother at Lewiston High School’s “Store Next Door.” Seaman, the liaison for students experiencing homelessness, used the goofy bonnet to prompt laughter while helping students in crisis. Seaman, credited with building the program that helps students stay in school, is retiring. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — Mary Seaman never had any children, yet she’s known as “mom” at Lewiston High School.

She’s had a baby named after her. Former students, and parents of former students, show up in her yard and join her for breakfast. She’s built a community within a community at the school.

After years working as the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program liaison at the high school, helping students who are homeless by removing barriers to their education, Seaman is retiring.

Since she started the program in 2000, she’s helped hundreds, if not thousands, of teens by connecting them with resources to help them stay in school.

Seaman, 57, of Turner, said she’s retiring in part because “I feel outdated, outmoded with educational philosophies and systems and practices.”

Through the years she’s heard heartbreaking stories of youth being subjected to cruelty, neglect. “The world is full of so much hate and harm and loss,” she said.


The job is hard.

Still, when she talks about leaving, tears flow.

It’s hard to walk away, Seaman said. “I’m learning now what it really meant to me. It has taught me I’m surrounded by love and greatness. I wouldn’t have traded it for anything. … I’m the one who’s blessed.”

Seaman grew up in Turner, graduating from Leavitt Area High School in Turner.

After college her first teaching job was on Monhegan Island, then in Bethel. “Then my life brought me back this way.”

In 1987, she began working for Lewiston Public Schools as a Pettingill Elementary School teacher in a self-contained classroom. In 1999, she went to Alaska to finish her degree in school psychology. She had the chance to stay in Alaska, teaching in a district that covered 20,000 miles, flying into Native American villages.


“But dad was pretty sick. My umbilical cord brought me home,” she said.

In 2000, a Lewiston School Department teaching post at the New Beginnings youth shelter opened up. She was hired. “I was the only one who applied,” Seaman said with a laugh. “I guess that made me the best candidate.”

Her decision to teach at New Beginnings for students of displaced families “forever changed my life,” she said.

In 2006, changes in the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Program meant the program was moved out of the shelter and into the high school, which expanded access to more students.

In the school’s basement, Seaman erected a clothes rack to provide clothing for homeless youth. After getting grants and donations, before long Seaman morphed the clothes rack into “The Store Next Door.” Needy students are given not just clothes, but donated food, backpacks, school supplies and personal products like toothpaste and shampoo.

Near The Store Next Door is the kitchen table, a roundtable and chairs where students grab something to eat, just as they would if they had a stable home. They talk to Seaman, or educational technician Meg Dumais or social worker Jamie Caouette.


The kitchen table “is home away from home,” Seaman said. “We use a lot of humor to take away some of the edges. If we’re not laughing, we’re crying, so let’s laugh.”

Three kinds of students drop by, Seaman said, “members, guests and drive-by’s.”

A member is one of 200 students identified by Lewiston’s program as a student experiencing homelessness. A “guest” is a student who may not be homeless but is struggling. A “drive-by” is a student in neither category but could use advice or friendship.

“This is a judgment-free zone for all sorts of reasons,” Seaman said, seated at her kitchen table. “We’ve got every gender identify possible and it doesn’t matter. We just love.”

Seaman is well known. Praise for her is easy to find.

High School Principal Jake Langlais said what Seaman has done for students “is immeasurable. Mary has grown the program and ensured its sustainability well beyond the resources from state and federal funding,” and built a network of support.


She’s been resourceful in finding support for students in ways that is confidential and allows students to have pride in themselves, Langlais said. “She will be missed.”

Seaman said her time will now go to her business, a Turner venue spot called The Great Outdoors.

Her involvement with former students who want to stay connected with her will continue, she said. “I’m not done yet.”

Her advice to her successor: “Eat your Wheaties. And just love unconditionally.”

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