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Mother's way: Taneytown woman changes lives, one child at a time

TANEYTOWN — They call her Nana. Lillian Hardie may have given birth to only one child, but she spends every day of her life taking care of five kids — all legally hers — and making sure they're happy and healthy. A sixth daughter in college is also legally, although not biologically, Hardie's.

There's 20-year-old Raynisha Johnson, who's now at Frostburg University. Next is 16-year-old Michael Willis, who attends Francis Scott Key High School; then 13-year-old Jordan Hargrove, who attends Northwest Middle School; 12-year-old Ashleigh Hood, who attends East Middle School; 10-year-old Aniya Thornton, Hardie's biological grandchild who attends Cranberry Station Elementary School; and 9-year-old Naimah Cotton, who also attends Cranberry Station.

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It's a full house for the Taneytown family. There are also two dogs, two cats, a rabbit, a guinea pig and a bearded dragon.

It may be a little cramped some days, but there's a lot of love.

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"I'm just happy to see they have a life to live as children," Hardie said. "If I could, I would probably take every child that is on the streets."

On one Friday in May, Hardie sits on a couch with Michael, Ashleigh, Aniya and Naimah, squished in the middle. Life hasn't always been this way.

There's all types of moms out there, whether their kids are grown, infants or somewhere in between — or if they are nurturing someone else's child.

Hardie grew up the oldest of four girls to a single mom in Baltimore City. She struggled with drugs, but said she has been clean for 22 years. And now, she's helping kids who need it most, many of whom come from homes with drug-addicted parents.

It started with one.

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She took in her son's daughter, Jordan. Then, Hardie and her husband Rugless, began fostering children. Over a couple years, they've had 30 or so foster kids in and out of the house, she said.

"I really got tired of seeing children come and go," Hardie said. "The last three I had in my home, I kept."

Those were Naimah, Willis and Johnson who became official members of the family, joining Jordan.

The name Nana originally came from Jordan, but it stuck with all the kids. And, Hardie said, she's not their mom. She makes sure all of the kids know their biological families, and takes the kids to visit those who are still alive.

"All of them came broken," she said of the kids. "They just are from confused families."

Although they don't call her mom, they do call her family.

"They mean the world to me," Hardie said.

Ashleigh's the most recent permanent family member to be added. She lived with Hardie off and on before joining the family for good, Ashleigh said.

She sits on the couch with her new siblings, joking with Naimah and Aniya.

"[The best part is] knowing that I have a safe place to go at the end of the day," Ashleigh said. "Everything just changed for the better."

Her self-esteem is better and her grades are higher now that she lives with Hardie and the other kids, she added.

Willis echoed that feeling of security. Living with Hardie gives him parents and sisters that support him in everything he does, he added.

Things aren't always easy though, Hardie said. They have to run a tight ship, with each day on a set schedule.

The kids get up — the earliest at 5 a.m. — and the routine begins. Breakfast and off to school. After school, the kids are either involved in activities or attend the Boys & Girls Club of Westminster. When they come home, it's time for homework and then family dinner. Lights are out at 9 p.m., sharp, Hardie said.

"I'm very structured," she said, adding that they have to be to make things run smoothly. "I love to have fun, but I don't play when it comes to values."

It's a lot of work. And, she said laughing, a lot of laundry. Hardie does at least two loads a day, every day.

The group has dinner together every night at the dining room table, Hardie said. Sundays, there's a buffet-style meal, with food enough to feed many more than who are there.

But paying for that food, and for clothes and day-to-day items for the kids, requires Hardie to be resourceful, she said. The kids wear hand-me-downs when they can get them. They use food stamps and the food bank.

"My kids will never go hungry," Hardie said.

And while it may be Hardie who's saving these kids, they're saving her, too. Hardie's only biological son and her mother both died this past November.

She had to keep going on, Hardie said. She had to keep being Nana.

The kids helped her through.

"They are the ones," Hardie said, "that uplifted my spirits."

410-857-7862



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