Stacey BessWhen I was attending college at the University of Utah, I liked to volunteer at the Bennion Center. As a lowly volunteer, I had nothing to do with the name. It was named after my (very distant) cousin Lowell, but it was fun walking around there like I owned the place. The center bore Lowell’s name not because he gave it a lot of money (as is usually the case with Universities) but, refreshingly, because of his great example, though he was of very modest means. While I was there, Lowell himself still volunteered; one of the jobs you could sign up for was driving him around on his visits to the vast array of shut-ins he ministered to.

One the most striking and energizing places to go was the so-called “School with No Name.” Stacey Bess was the “Principal” of this school, founded to teach students who were housed at the homeless shelter in downtown Salt Lake City. Though it originally didn’t even have a proper classroom, by the time I was there it met in one room above the shelter. Aside from the single room and students of all ages, it had little else in common with the one-room schoolhouses of lore.

You can begin to imagine, but only just begin, the challenges she faced in a classroom with no set roster, children of all ages and academic ability, coming from families with crushing economic, mental health, and criminal challenges, and attending her class for a completely unpredictable duration.

When I arrived there the first time, Ms. Bess busily assigned myself and my fellow volunteers to two or three kids each, and we helped tutor them (usually on reading, sometimes in math). As soon as she got us all assigned, she would briefly take off to round up the kids she knew were missing. She would find them in nearby parked cars, in the aqueduct, or down at the shelter detained by parents unwilling to let their children go to the school that day. Very few people could resist a determined Stacey Bess, so she usually returned with all the missing kids.

From her assignments to us, it was obvious she was well-acquainted with each child and his or her academic ability and family situation. From the moment I came near her I could feel an iron determination mixed with an abiding love, even (or especially) in the face of ever-varying and unrelenting challenges. It’s something I observed in several other people I met through the Bennion Center, though these qualities are in quite short supply in the world at large (as I find particularly when I look inside myself).

At least by the time I was volunteering there, she did enjoy good support from the community. Several Jazz players were regulars there. You can imagine the impact an NBA player could have in encouraging these kids to study. The walls were festooned with artwork from drawn by the kids, and notes to and from volunteers like the Jazz players and other VIPs. The Jazz players and others also helped make sure the kids were supplied with shoes and other clothing items.

But Ms. Bess was the heart and soul of the school, without question. A year or two after I volunteered there, I learned about the book she had written, Nobody Don’t Love Nobody: Lessons on Love from the School with No Name. Then I read just today in the Deseret News that she is to be the subject of a CBS made-for-TV movie airing this Sunday evening. I invite you all to watch it to learn more about and be inspired by this wonderful fellow Latter-day Saint.