PORTLAND — From an early age, West End resident Charlie Miller knew he wanted to be a teacher. But Miller didn’t know his calling would take him all over the world and inspire him to make it a better place.

For the last 30 years, Miller, a member of the Waynflete Class of 1965 and co-founder of The Children’s Initiative, has been working to improve the health and education of children in communities worldwide.

Charlie Miller Courtesy / Waynflete School

Miller has helped build a school and libraries and make electric and water system improvements in Catdang, Vietnam, in the early 1990s. He also built a school, library and community center, dug wells, established a coffee plantation and planted 5,000 trees in El Rosario, Honduras, in the 2000s. More recently, he helped to finance The Children’s Initiative school in Phaeton, Haiti.

Last month, Waynflete honored Miller with the 2020 Klingenstein Award, which is handed out annually by the school’s board of trustees as a way to honor people who have made an impact on the world.

Miller, a 1969 graduate of Dartmouth College, said winning the award caught him off guard.

“I was very surprised to get it, but very pleased,” Miller said.

“Charlie Miller is the very embodiment of Waynflete’s ideals. He has invested an enormous amount of his time and resources in local and international good works of every description and has made an enormous impact both locally and internationally,” the school said in a statement announcing Miler as this year’s winner. “He has expanded his own impact with successful entrepreneurship not for his own enrichment, but for the benefit of his projects. He remains a tireless fundraiser and advocate for his projects and for the good work of local nonprofits.”

Christopher Smith, president of the Waynflete Board of Trustees, said Miller personifies “leadership and service and has devoted his life to working locally and internationally for the benefit of others. Spanning decades, the broad scope of Charlie’s work has transformed organizations, communities and individual lives alike.”

“We as a board could think of no one more deserving of this award,” Smith said.

Miller said when he first visited Vietnam 30 years ago, he immediately fell in love with the country and, with a sense of regret due to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, felt compelled to help.

“I felt a great deal of emotion on that issue and I wanted to do something for the country, for the people,” he said.

When he arrived in the small village of Catdang, he knew it was the place.

“I knew I could help and I made a promise to them I would come back with some resources,” he said.

Now, 30 years later, the investments, Miller said, have paid off.

“I was there two years ago and they didn’t need me anymore. They took every opportunity that me and other people gave them and are doing well,” Miller said.

Miller hopes that success is replicated in Honduras and the investment his organization has made will lead to employment for locals. According to the organization “coffee profits should be evident by 2022 and the mahogany return will begin in 2026.”

“The idea was not to make money, but to give people work,” he said. “The idea is to create an economy down there whereby (The Children’s Initiative) could pay people for their labor and they would have enough food and enough money so they don’t have to leave.”

Miller has also made an impact locally, sitting on the boards of The Boys and Girls Club, Portland Public Library, Maine Humanities Council and Mayo Street Arts. He has also tutored at the Telling Room, a writing center on Commercial Street. It was through this tutoring that led Miller to adopt five girls, all sisters, originally from Afghanistan.

Three years ago Miller and Mary Allen Lindemann, owner of Coffee By Design, started the Metamorphosis Awards, which are handed out annually to people under 40 who are dedicating to serving youth, particularly those at risk. Award winners have included Blainor McGough, co-founder and executive director of Mayo Street Arts; Heather Davis, executive director of LearningWorks; Barrett Takesian, president and executive director of Portland Community Squash; and Jeff Shaw, founder and executive director of Maine Academy of Modern Music.

Whether locally or internationally, Miller said his passion has always been making sure children have a chance to succeed.

“My greatest pleasure is seeing young minds challenged and seeing young kids who simply have no idea what an education can mean for them, mature into young adults with a chance,” he said.

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