CHARLOTTE, NC (Joe Marusak/The Charlotte Observer) - Ellen DeGeneres surprised a Charlotte area teacher on her show on Monday with a $100,000 check for her school's backpack program.
"I heard you were in the audience," DeGeneres told Emily Francis of Concord after calling her on stage. "You did not expect this."
"Yes, I'm out of breath," Francis replied, smiling in disbelief.
Francis teaches English as a Second Language at W.M. Irvin Elementary School, a Title I school in Concord where many students receive free breakfast and lunch. The backpack program sends food home with the neediest students over the weekends.
The check came courtesy of the Chobani Foundation. Hamdi Ulukaya, who founded the New York-based Chobani Yogurt, presented the oversized check to Francis on the show.
Francis told DeGeneres and Ulukaya how she was only 13 when her mother left her with four younger siblings in Guatemala, until her mother earned enough in the United States to pay a smuggler to get them here.
"For two years, I raised them," Francis said of her siblings, then ages 11, 9, 5 and 3. "We built a little shack in my neighbor's back yard."
Francis was 15 when her mother "sent a smuggler to bring us here. We got busted at the airport."
Fortunately, her grandmother is a U.S. citizen, she said, and claimed them as her grandchildren.
Francis had only a 6th-grade education. She taught herself English watching "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "Friends," she said.
"So were you just walking up to people saying, 'we'll be right back" DeGeneres replied to laughter for the audience.
Ulukaya, who immigrated to the U.S. in 1994, the same year as Francis, joked that her English is better than his because he learned by watching "Seinfeld."
"I watched the wrong show, so her English is much better than mine," he joked. He took ESL class at the State University of New York at Albany.
The show also included a live shot from Francis' classroom, where the students cheered. A student named David took the microphone and told Francis: "Thank you for teaching me English and being with me all along."
On Jan. 18, a Charlotte first-grade teacher was surprised on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" for her kind heart in the classroom.