Lifelong activist for the poor to speak at United WayWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When kids floated between foster homes or detention centers, they landed at Stacey Bess’ house. She was a young girl then, and her mother worked for an agency that placed troubled or neglected children in new homes. Bess remembers their faces. She recalls a girl and her two brothers who had cigarette burns scarring their arms and fingers.
By the time Bess was 25, she too had carved out a place to safe place for children to land. She took a job with the public school system just after she graduated from the University of Utah. But this was no ordinary school.
The building was a corrugated metal shed on the grounds of a homeless shelter. Prior to the program’s inception, the district had noticed a problem: Homeless children just weren’t getting to school. “The School with No Name” was the answer.
Bess was to teach all subjects to kindergartners through 12th-graders her first year. The district split up some of the grades the following year and now children from the shelter are phased into the regular schools.
They came in malnourished and fatigued but eager to learn.
“It was not difficult to get their attention — when you put childhood in front of them they do not think about the adult things for once,” Bess said. “When your family is trying to figure out the things that are just a basic right to us, an education takes a lower rung on the ladder.”
Bess has reams of stories to tell. She has shared through her books, through public speaking and through television — her book “Nobody Don’t Love Nobody” inspired a Hallmark Hall of Fame film called “Beyond the Blackboard.”
On April 24 she will share with Toledoans for the United Way’s Women’s Initiative Spring Event at Notre Dame Academy, 3535 W. Sylvania Ave. The program will begin at 6:15 in the Performing Arts Center, preceded by networking and appetizers at 5 p.m.
Tickets cost $35 or $15 with a student or teacher ID. Men are welcome as well.
Women’s Initiative of United Way aims to inspire women to become leaders, philanthropists and advocates for women’s issues.
Bess said she will invite her listeners to learn from three individuals whom inspired and taught her lessons — a homeless man, a 60-year-old homeless woman and a young boy.
“This was a young man who was not at all interested in having me as his teacher or friend because he was so tired of all the loss in his life,” she said. “Through his story I will invite (my audience) to understand that there are children everywhere who want just one person to follow through.”
And Bess did. If a child didn’t show up to class — although most piled up at the door — she would knock on car windows or approach their shelter rooms on the site. She would do anything to get their attention.
The parents were receptive, she said. One of the first things she learned was just how much these parents loved their kids.
“At first I wasn’t sure that you could love your children and provide them with such horrid circumstances and I was so proven wrong,” she said. “These moms and dads loved these kids and they didn’t want them to go through this; they wanted badly for them to have opportunities.”
Bess learned from the children she taught as they learned from her. Tomorrow, she said, she will invite her audience to step out of their comfort zones and see that everyone has a story to tell.