Merrie Allen greets people by name when they enter the West End Neighborhood Resource Hub, a two-room trailer at 586 Westbrook St. in South Portland.

It may be the working single mom who picks out a few used children’s books and a hand-me-down winter coat for her daughter, or the older man in a wheelchair who stops by for the weekly distribution of free day-old baked goods.

Or the weary middle-age woman who slumps into a chair and shares the latest news about her aging father’s struggles back in storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

Each person gets a warm but casual welcome, as if they’re stopping by Merrie Allen’s kitchen.

“It’s very natural for me,” said Allen, 67, a longtime social worker who runs the Hub. “It’s just being open to people and listening to people. Every day is a new connection.”

The Hub is a community outreach program hosted by the city of South Portland and staffed by the Opportunity Alliance that serves a growing and diverse neighborhood of low-income, senior and market-rate housing complexes near the Maine Mall. As the full-time community builder at the Hub, Allen provides a variety of services and referrals for everything from food insecurity and job counseling to language classes and legal assistance.

Since starting at the Hub five years ago, Allen has established herself as someone for whom helping others is more than just a job. Last month, Allen won the President’s Award, which the Opportunity Alliance gives each year to an outstanding employee. She was nominated by neighborhood residents.

“Merrie is amazing,” said Jennifer Lessard, a leader of the South Portland West End Neighborhood Association. “For her, it’s not a job – it’s a part of her life being here and bringing people together. She enjoys it so much, I sometimes forget it’s her job.”

A Portland resident and native of Worcester, Massachusetts, Allen came to Maine in 1969 for a job with a direct-mail company. Eventually, she got a social work degree from the University of Southern Maine and worked for more than two decades in residential youth programs.

She traces her concern for the welfare of others back to her Scottish great-grandfather, a man who was known as a “problem solver” for other coal miners when they had money troubles or family issues. She also credits the civil-rights-oriented pastor of the church she attended as a kid and her parents, who raised their four children in a loving, working-class home.

“They really cultivated caring about other people,” Allen said. “They taught us how to enjoy each other and tolerate our differences and that every person matters.”

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