December 25, 2012

8-year-old and his homeless helpers pitch in for Portland school

By North Cairn
Staff Writer

PORTLAND — Empty boxes. Tatters of paper from cans and jars.

click image to enlarge

In this Dec. 20 photo, Max Ngabo, 8, of Portland, holds some of the Box Tops and UPCs for Labels for Education he has collected.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Max Ngabo, 8, and his mother Wanda Brann of Portland, in their home on Dec. 20, 2012.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

To most people, they're throwaways.

Not to Maximus "Max" Ngabo, 8, and his mother, Wanda Brann of Portland. To them, discarded containers are carriers of promise, help for their school, Presumpscot Elementary, which doesn't have a lot of extras to bolster the educational budget for its 280 students.

For Max, a young man short on words but long on energy, the bottles and cans and boxes that other people throw away are potential prizes because he is collecting the tops and labels to redeem them for items that can help his school: cash, supplies and equipment.

In the process, Max has formed an unusual bond with some of Portland's homeless, who saw him collecting items at community recycling bins and began to help with his campaign.

Max's helpers -- who hang out around recycling bins, linger at the soup kitchen, roam the streets -- all pitch in, going through the remains of other people's days, picking up the litter of strangers' lives, to create new possibilities for Max and his fellow students.

"They literally have a backpack" to hold their lives and possessions, said Brann. "But they think of us as much as they think of themselves, and we think of them as much as we think of ourselves."

Leading the campaign to collect box tops and labels for Presumpscot has given Max, a bright third-grader who has health challenges including narcolepsy, much more self-confidence over the last year or so. Since he made the effort his campaign, he has learned a lot about himself, his school, his family and the people in his neighborhood and his city.

Max and his mother get up before 6 on weekend mornings to be on the job early at the recycling bins on Somerset and Chestnut streets. There, they spend as much time as they need to paw through trash that, if handled properly, can be used to the school's advantage.

"We don't have money to donate to the school, or even buy these products," said Brann, who works part time in a legal office and serves as Presumpscot's coordinator for box tops and labels, "but that doesn't mean we can't help."

And help they have. They have lost count of how much they have collected in three years. But Brann said this year's efforts are going so well that in the first three months of the school year they have collected more than Presumpscot ever collected in an entire year.

Clip-and-save programs -- school-corporate partnerships in which parent groups redeem product labels or other proofs of purchase for cash or products -- are popular in elementary schools, in part because they encourage participation in the life of the school, foster cooperation and competition among students, and help kids learn reading, math and other life skills.

Since 1996, when General Mills launched the program on cereal boxes, Box Tops for Education has helped America's schools earn more than $475 million. Within two years of its creation, it had more than 30,000 schools participating. And as Box Tops for Education has grown over the years, all sorts of businesses have signed on, from Hanes and Barnes & Noble to Green Giant and Land O'Lakes.

In Labels for America, the nation's oldest clip-and-save program, schools participating in volunteer projects, fitness activities or educational programs that promote learning, caring, sharing or students' nutrition and wellness can receive bonus points.

Created by Campbell's, the program has generated more than $100 million worth of equipment for U.S. schools.

In Maxian economics, it's a little more straightforward: box tops are worth a dime, he said, and each label in the Labels for America program gives a school points toward supplies and other merchandise.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Max Ngabo, 8, of Portland, displays a board he made for his school about collecting Box Tops and UPCs for Labels for Education to raise money for his school.

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer


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