Oscar Princess Overcomes Homelessness, Poverty to Excel

From the moment "Good Morning America's" Chris Cuomo met Neveen Mahmoud, he knew that she was special and that she had overcome the worst to become the best.

The 17-year-old Philadelphian had the surprise of her life last week, when "Good Morning America" made her its "Oscar princess."

Neveen, or "Veenie" as her friends call her, and her mother, Dorita, will be traveling to Los Angeles for an all-expense paid trip to cover the Oscars with the "GMA" crew.

"I don't know, even know. I'm just overwhelmed. You think that you do something and you're just gonna do it and people will never notice," Neveen said, sobbing after being told last week.

"Good Morning America" originally met Neveen when she was awarded the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation -- a full four-year scholarship to any college in the world.

The scholarship is awarded to students who have overcome great obstacles to excell. For more on the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation's Young Scholars program visit it's Web site at www.jackkentcookefoundation.org.

Mother and Daughter on Their Own

Neveen and her mother, Dorita, had been on their own from the time she was a toddler, when her dad abandoned them.

Neveen's mother said, "I looked at this child, and I said to her, 'I will never turn my back on you.'"

Dorita worked hard as a popular travel agent for many years. She supported herself and her daughter until she was hit with a series of debilitating health problems, including heart and kidney failure and sleep apnea so bad that she had a tracheotomy. She was also diagnosed with a rare spinal disease that grips her entire body in constant pain. She's only 47.

Neveen said, "The hardest part is that it's not fair. It's hurt me when she's pushing herself to show up at my games when she's in pain. And that there's nothing I can do to physically make it go away."

"I would give anything in my life right now to have her be pain free," she said.

Neveen has grown up with the reality that her mother could die at any moment. At one point Dorita was in the intensive care unit for three months, and Neveen slept in her room. Neveen didn't tell anyone, not her classmates or even her closest friends.

"We never [knew] about Veenie's challenges. She never talks about them. Her mother never talks about them," said Kathlyn Gray, director of Neveen's high school. "There would be days Veenie would come to school and she would have been in the hospital all night, and she wouldn't tell anybody."

Neveen says no one needed to know. "It wasn't that I was ashamed. It's just that I never felt the need to broadcast it."

Dorita and Neveen became homeless while Dorita was in the hospital, and still Neveen relied on herself and didn't reach out for help.

Dorita remembers that she was terrified in her hospital bed, worried about sending her child to a homeless shelter.

"I didn't want my child to wake up in the morning to catch the school bus from the shelter," Dorita said.

Every day was a struggle for the family to survive, physically and financially.

"Dorita will never ask for anything," said Dorita's sister, Acquanetta Davis. "She just tries to make ends meet."

The only thing the family has to live on are Social Security checks, and it's often not enough. Their electricity is scheduled to be shut off next month, and it's happened before.

But Naveen doesn't indulge in self-pity.

"I'm not unhappy with what I'm dealt with," Neveen said. "It's adversity. It happens. Life happens."

Mother and daughter have learned to find strength in each other when life gets too hard.

'She Never Missed a Beat'

"When I'm at my lowest she pulls up with everything she has, and when she's at her lowest I am pulling her up," Neveen said.

Neveen's best friend agrees.

"I don't think I've seen as strong a mother-daughter connection ever," said Molly Bourke, Naveen's best friend.

And what they lack in material wealth, the two make up for in spiritual riches. Goodness and determination have propelled Neveen to incredible heights. She is an A student, the president of her student body, and a star on the soccer and lacrosse fields.

Her mom describes Neveen as always managing and taking everything in stride. "She never missed a beat," Dorita said.

Neveen even took it upon herself to help others, though she stayed silent about her own troubles. At school, she has organized students to help the people of Darfur in the Sudan.

"It disgusts me on a daily basis," Neveen said. "It absolutely horrifies me [that] people can watch this and turn a blind eye. This is something that's very real, very prominent and affects all of us whether we like to think it or not."

Dorita said of her daughter: "If I could just be a quarter of the person that she is today at 17 I'd be living large."

Neveen feels the same way about her mom.

"If I was an eighth of the person that she is today, I'd be so satisfied with who I [have] become," she said.