Local Boy Scout brings joy of reading to Newark students

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — A Maplewood Boy Scout distributed hundreds of books to the students of a Newark public school last month as part of a project to qualify as an Eagle Scout.

Max Spiegel, a 17-year-old member of Troop 5, collected and donated approximately 500 books to roughly 260 students in kindergarten through eighth grade at East Newark School. In fact, he had so much literature that each student went home with two age-appropriate storybooks or graphic novels. Many more were given to the school’s own collection.

Spiegel said the children all seemed excited to receive the books, but he was just as pleased to give them out. As he told the News-Record, he hopes they will make a difference in the students’ lives.

“Reading, instead of something that’s boring and they have to do for school, is something that can be fun,” Spiegel said in a June 4 phone interview. “I just wanted to bring reading outside of the classroom and into something that they can do as a fun activity.”

Spiegel’s own love of reading inspired him to take on the project. The Boy Scout said he spent a lot of time in the library as a youth, which led to him developing his current passion for English as a Columbia High School junior. He wanted to put children on the same path, so decided to benefit the students of East Newark, where his mother teaches art.

But that goal was not achieved overnight. Spiegel said he first put the word out that he needed new and gently used children’s literature on Facebook. And South Orange and Maplewood residents responded in droves, dropping off hundreds of books at his doorstep. Many even came from people he did not know, which meant a lot to him.

“It feels really good to know that the community is always looking out for everyone,” Spiegel said. “It shows how helpful and tightknit South Orange and Maplewood can be because all these perfect strangers were nice enough to give their books to me, and I really appreciate it.”

At the same time, Spiegel also posted a Facebook request asking publishers to donate some books as well. In response, he said an Eagle Scout at Nobrow Press contributed roughly 250 graphic novels. All told, he said his project accumulated approximately 800 books, though only 500 were of a quality worth using.

The Scout’s work did not end there, though. Upon learning that East Newark’s Multipurpose Room was in need of bookshelves, Spiegel built some shelves that could be placed in the room’s window sills. In addition, he arranged to have graphic novelist Kevin C. Pyle make a presentation on writing and illustrating for the students to enjoy.

Michele Spiegel, Max Spiegel’s mother, said the children loved Pyle’s presentation. She herself thought it was “terrific” that her son was able to pull off such a major project, especially one that taught him the importance of philanthropy. Plus, she said, the experience gave him the opportunity to hone his leadership skills.

“(It let him) come up with an idea he’s interested in and use it to help others,” Michele Spiegel told the News-Record in a June 2 phone interview, adding that her son was also able to “learn about other people and use resources to make (the project) happen.”

The proud mother pointed out that those abilities will serve her son well as he moves into adulthood. And she is not the only one to take note of Max Spiegel’s efforts.

East Newark Principal Patrick Martin told the News-Record he was impressed by how the Boy Scout followed through on all of his ideas. Martin was also glad to see Max Spiegel make such a big difference in the lives of his students. The principal said more than 90 percent of the school consists of students eligible for free and reduced lunches, so many probably would not have been able to afford books like the ones they were given. He said more than 90 percent of the students also come from Spanish-speaking families, so the English-language books they received could help them become more proficient with the language.

Aside from the literature, Martin said the children will hopefully be inspired to help others after seeing Max Spiegel’s own generosity. The principal said the Boy Scout is definitely a role model, both a “terrific young man” and a great ambassador for South Orange and Maplewood. And while he said people might look down on the Boy Scouts as being too “corny” for today’s world, one only has to look at Max Spiegel’s work to think differently.

“He helped hundreds of children with his efforts,” Martin said in a June 2 phone interview. “That’s about the coolest thing I’ve seen a young person do in a long, long time. If there was ever a student who deserved to be an Eagle Scout, it’s Max Spiegel.”

He may deserve to be an Eagle Scout, but Max Spiegel is not one just yet. The Boy Scout said he still has to earn a few more merit badges and complete some other minor tasks before he can officially attain the highest rank in Scouting.

After that, Max Spiegel said he does not know what the future holds. But he is sure of one thing — this project will not be the last time he helps those in need.

Photos Courtesy of Michele Spiegel