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CBS TV movie tells story of Latter-day Saint and educational advocate Stacey Bess

By Blair Howell

Published: Tuesday, April 19 2011 3:30 a.m. MDT

Following one significant award after the book was published, Bess received a letter with the LDS Church Office Building as its return address. “My husband joked that it was a letter to excommunicate me,” she laughs. “But President Gordon B. Hinckley had written to congratulate me on what I was doing. He told me I was doing what the Lord had asked me to do.”

It’s a letter Bess has read over many times, especially when she second-guesses the time she splits between her career demands and her family responsibilities: “I know that my family has been highly blessed through what I have been able to do,” she explains.

Bess firmly believes opportunities abound for everyone to serve children.

“The number one problem is that people say they don’t have the skills or the training, but that is the wrong response,” she said. “I would like to see every adult reading to children. There are hundreds and hundreds of children who are struggling, and reading is critical.

“There are many opportunities. All it takes is a desire to serve, and the more you serve, the more you will learn how to serve.”

Her recommendation is a simple one: “Don’t be afraid. Step outside your comfort zone.”

Her zeal to inspire service has impacted many others, including the actors who portrayed the characters in the movie.

“‘Beyond the Blackboard’ reminds us that sometimes it doesn’t take an awful lot to make a huge difference in other people’s lives,” said Treat Williams (known for his role in “Everwood”), who plays a superintendent Bess had to persuade for school resources. “In this economy, with so many people having a rough time, I think the message in this film is going to resonate. We’re all in this together, and each person is capable of making a positive difference in the lives of others.”

Emily VanCamp (“Brothers & Sisters”), who plays Bess in the movie, said, “I have such a tremendous amount of admiration for Stacey Bess and for the things she’s done. I love the combination she has of vulnerability and empathy, matched with tremendous strength.”

“The important thing I’ve learned, and I’ve learned this over and over again, is the difference one person can make,” Bess said. “I’ve seen what can happen when one person reaches out to make a difference in the lives of children. I wanted to stay (at the School with No Name), so I could show that somebody does love somebody, just as the Savior would have.”

Bess plans a follow-up book with stories of service that individuals can submit on her website, staceybess.com. She also gives resources for information about service opportunities.

Blair Howell is a freelance editor and writer.

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