Her mission began in Santa Monica, where she noticed homeless children in a park during school hours. It became a far-reaching legacy that continues today.
Agnes Stevens, a longtime educator who turned an idea into a nonprofit organization that has impacted thousands of students, died Feb. 13 in Ventura after a long illness. She was 79.
Through her involvement with School on Wheels, which she founded in 1993, Stevens established a network of volunteers who work with homeless children in one-one-one sessions to improve academic stability.
Stevens, a one-time Santa Monica resident, began mentoring youngsters at Joslyn Park after retiring from a teaching career that weaved through New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. She encouraged them to stay in school and returned for regular tutoring sessions.
She was driven to action after reading “Rachel and Her Children,” a book by Jonathan Kozol about homeless families in America.
“It takes so little to help a kid,” Stevens told LA Weekly in 2009. “We’re all about kids getting an education … that’s the only way for the future.”
With Stevens at the helm, School on Wheels grew substantially. It now provides weekly tutoring services throughout Southern California as well as backpacks with school supplies, a toll-free number for outreach and retention, assistance with records and school enrollment and guidance for parents.
The organization’s Westside region, which includes Santa Monica, features 18 tutoring locations — including 11 shelters, according to marketing director Sinead Chilton. The region has 125 active volunteers.
Thanks in part to Stevens’ dedication, more than 3,100 children received tutoring through School on Wheels in 2014.
“She was one of those very special human beings who inspired everyone around her,” executive director Catherine Meek said in a statement. “She had such courage and the vision to see beyond all the roadblocks in life. She had an unwavering belief in and passion for School on Wheels.”
Stevens’ work with homeless children did not go unnoticed. She was one of three women to receive the World’s Children’s Prize in 2008, and she was named a Minerva Award honoree in 2009.
“She was an extraordinary woman who made a lasting difference in our lives and this world,” Meek said. “We all wanted to be a part of making Agnes’ dream of helping homeless children come true. We will miss her every day.”
Stevens, a Boston native and former nun who was the youngest of five children, is survived by two brothers, four nephews, two great-nieces and four stepchildren.
A memorial service was scheduled to be held at the Paradise Cove community center, 28128 Pacific Coast Hwy., in Malibu. Stevens’ ashes will be taken out to sea in a small private ceremony.
Donations to School on Wheels should be sent to P.O. Box 23371, Ventura, CA 93002.
Contact Jeff Goodman at 310-573-8351, email@example.com or on Twitter.