NOBODY DON'T LOVE NOBODY: Lessons on Love from the School With No Name, by Stacey Bess, published by Gold Leaf Press, $15.95, 230 pages.
By the time Stacey Bess was 23 years old, fresh out of college with a teaching certificate, she had created a mental picture of the students she would teach in a bright, tidy and well-equipped classroom. Education was important, and under her guidance, with students' families encouraging them, a small step would be taken to change the world.Instead, the school district hired her to teach grades kindergarten through six in the Salt Lake homeless shelter. The surroundings and the students were battered and unkempt. Instead of the well-dressed, tidy children with involved parents who peopled her dreams, the homeless children were scruffy, uncontrolled and badly damaged by their lifestyles. And something she'd never imagined in those dreams: Most of her children had no sense of hope or belief they could control their futures.
Collapsed in tears at the end of the first day, she vowed she would be out of there when her contract expired in June. She was afraid of the environment, saddened by what she saw and unsure of her ability to make a difference in lives that would generally cross her path for only 90 days - the length of time a family can stay in the shelter.
She didn't plan on falling in love - over and over and over again.
Bess has chronicled her years as teacher at the School With No Name, located now in the Salt Lake Community Shelter and Resource Center. Her book, "Nobody Don't Love Nobody," is a love letter to the children who have changed her vision of reality, carving their names and tales of hardship on her heart. It is also a primer for communities that care but have little understanding or exposure to children whose lives are played out on the streets of cities across America.
The book is a well-written and touching account of children's lives. The reader meets Dana and learns what Christmas can be like for children who have no material belongings or family stability; Alex, who idolizes Karl Malone and just wants to be accepted; Jenny, who loves children but can't get her own life on track. There's Tucker, much too large for his age and terrified by private demons; Zach, who learns to believe in himself; and Maria, whose life shows that just love is not enough. Children need schedules and school and food and a roof overhead that doesn't change every few days.
"Nobody" is also the story of Bess' family and the effect her job has on husband Greg and their three children.
Bess colorfully and tenderly portrays the two worlds in which she lives: The shelter school where she teaches and the suburban neighborhood where her children play ball and take dance lessons and go to church.
Along the way, the reader learns that if "nobody don't love nobody," the world's not a place worth inhabiting. And everyone has the power to change it, at least a little.
This book is a plea for compassion and a call to action, complete with advice on getting started. It doesn't sugarcoat the problems of the homeless population - many problems that are self-inflicted. But it doesn't condemn, either.
It's an important book about the human condition - and an interesting and enjoyable read.