When his basketball team’s bus broke down back in January, Max Koebernick got on his computer.
The white bus wasn’t just transportation to out-of-town tournaments for the Buffalo Soldiers and the Soaring Eagles.
The 2000 Chevy Express picked up players from their middle schools and took them to churches and rec centers and college campuses, so they could do their homework and take life skills classes at Guidance To Success, a nonprofit started by their coach, Angelo Stabler.
The bus was old and when winter hit hard, the engine froze. And it busted.
Without the bus, GTS couldn’t go.
So Max set up an online fundraiser. The Dawes Middle School eighth-grader donated the first $10. His dad emailed the newspaper.
A few days later, I told the story of Max and the basketball players and the bus and Coach Angelo.
Then some pretty cool things started to happen.
The story of the white bus, and how one boy with the help of strangers, saved a nonprofit, is one of the reasons I love this job.
And why I love people who read newspaper stories and open their hearts and wallets.
It’s crazy, really truly crazy, the generosity that surrounds us.
Max set a goal of $10,000 for a new engine and to maybe (hopefully) have some change left over for extras for the stretched-thin organization.
He didn’t quite make it.
When I looked last week, the fund was stuck at $9,290.
But something better than reaching that five-figure goal had happened.
A woman named Kate Pieper read the original story that Sunday. She had called her husband at work. Tim Pieper and a guy named Sid Dillon own a car dealership in south Lincoln.
You gotta help these kids, Kate told him.
They towed the bus on over. They replaced the motor, free of charge. They gave GTS a gas card, that may or may not ever run out.
They did it very quietly, but word leaked out and I called Tim Pieper. He gave his spouse all the credit.
“She was very insistent,” he said. “And it involved kids and kids who didn’t have maybe as many opportunities and they needed a bus.”
The basketball players jumped for joy. They had wheels. They had hope.
And all the money they raised for the bus repair sat there in the pot, waiting. Dollars given in $10s and $20s and more by 125 souls.
Many of them were strangers, Max Koebernick said last week. Like a basketball organization from Crete, and some hoops fans north of town.
“My kids play ball and enjoy the entire Lincoln community,” wrote Victor Murray. “Good luck, guys. We are from Waverly!!”
One donor called Max a superhero. Another gave some good advice with his donation: “Do good, be good, make the world a better place.”
Don and Mary Pedersen added a reason with their donation: “Love to support youth participants in this program for a great purpose.”
Joe Starita urged on the giving: “You’re either on the bus or off the bus. Let’s get on the bus for Angelo and his merry band of Buffalo Soldiers,” wrote the author of “‘I Am a Man’ — Chief Standing Bear's Journey for Justice.”
The flood of money and well-wishes surprised Max.
And his coach.
“It opened the door to a whole new line of support,” Stabler said. “It was a blessing to see the community rally around these kids.”
The money they raised for bus repairs helped them buy two used vans instead, so they could get more kids more places faster.
It allowed them to sign the lease for a house — a home for GTS to hold its after-school programs instead of bouncing from place to place.
It allowed them to buy new uniforms and have funds to enter more tournaments. It allowed them to take a road trip to Peru State College for a basketball game, where the team’s coach invited them into the post-game victory huddle.
It allowed them to buy tickets for 60 kids to see “The Black Panther” at the Grand, shuttled to and from in their bus and those two vans.
Last week, I met up with Coach Angelo and Max in a Lincoln High gym. Basketball season was nearly over. The Soaring Eagles were running sprints with their coach, Raven Adams, and the Buffalo Soldiers were shooting left-handed layups.
One of their two vans had been in an accident a few days earlier, Stabler told me. He’d taken it to Anderson Ford and he talked to Amie Blazio, the director of Because People Matter Inc., Anderson Auto Group’s nonprofit.
Back in January, the dealership had heard about the broken-down bus when a man brought in a newspaper clipping that told the story.
They’d been looking for a 16-passenger van for GTS but hadn’t found one yet, Blazio told me Wednesday.
And then she told me what she’d told Stabler when he came in with that wrecked van.
“How about we replace that for you?”
A free van to go with a white bus with a brand-new motor and a lot of love from a lot of people.