December 25, 2012

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

By North Cairn
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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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

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

Tim Greenway / Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

"He's very, very determined," said Brann, a single mother whose daughter, Alex, 18, also lives in Portland -- in a safer neighborhood, her mother says.

She turned to her son, sprawled on his stomach on the coffee table, listening.

"What's the Presumpscot promise?" she asked him, calling to mind the traits the school tries to engender in students.

"Honesty," he said. "Um, collaboration. Respect, responsibility, perseverance."

"There's one more," his mother said. "Compassion."

"Oh, yeah," he said. "Compassion."

"It's so natural, he forgets," Brann said. "He thinks everybody is compassionate."

That may explain why Max is so willing and eager to share his collecting efforts. And it might be part of the reason he's so successful.

Max "is such a strong model of the (school's) traits," said Cynthia Loring, principal at Presumpscot, which stresses that character building and student achievement go hand in hand.

Max has been so enthusiastic and his mother has been such "a champion, really, an ambassador" of the program, that the box tops and labels will bring in "thousands of dollars for the first time," Loring said.

Max talks up his work at the local laundry, the supermarket and anywhere else he can, so he's on a first-name basis with city workers and many homeless people, with whom he has formed relationships.

"Max doesn't see homeless people as people to avoid," Brann said. "He sees them as friends. It's almost like a family or community. That's how he views it ... Some are veterans; some have illnesses. We've met lots of kinds of people."

One homeless man, named Dennis, is always thinking up new strategies for Max to increase his collections, Brann said. Another, John, is a provider who always makes sure Max has food and warm clothes while he's collecting items at the recycling bins.

Then there's Charlie, whom Brann calls "the listener," because he takes things in and always offers encouragement and support for their work. "They really have a lot of wisdom to share," she said.

Brann and her family have been homeless themselves, including in one four-month period when they lived mostly out of her car.

They face having to move again, because the three-bedroom apartment in which they live is now beyond their means, because Alex -- whom her mother describes as "an activist and humanitarian since she was five" -- has left for college.

What hard times and homelessness have taught Brann is that "it could happen to any of us, any day," she said. "We just try to keep it simple."

They may have to go without many things that other families take for granted -- Max, for example, uses the same backpack he had when he started school four years ago -- but love, she said, has made all the difference.

"He loves his school; he loves himself; he loves his community," she said. "We're filthy rich in so many ways."

Staff Writer North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: 

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Additional Photos

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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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