“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
That’s a quote from Christian author John Maxwell that West Virginia native, teacher, and first-time author Mary Endres Thomas lives by.
“That’s a pretty powerful quote,” Thomas said. “It has put my life into perspective for me.”
Thomas will be in Charleston on Saturday, July 12 and Sunday, July 13 — with former students at her side — promoting her debut book, “Kids These Days — A Teacher’s Inspirational Journey That Will Change The Way You Think About Today’s Youth.”
In it, Thomas, who began her 40-year career at Lincoln Junior High School on Charleston’s West Side, shares stories of teens whose lives she touched and, more importantly, whose lives touched her.
“I am excited about coming home for this book signing. ‘Home’ has played a very important role in my career,” Thomas said. “I have been truly blessed in each of the teaching assignments I have had these past 40 years but I guess none of them are as special as the first.”
Her book chronicles her career, tracing her steps from Charleston to Aiken, South Carolina, through stories meant to inspire.
“My goal in writing this book was for people to gain a new perspective of kids these days.” Thomas said. “I share true, amazing, emotional, life changing stories of kids with character, kids with compassion, kids who make a 180 degree turn in their life because someone cared.
“I share stories of students who transformed tragedy into triumph as they faced incredible challenges but refused to give up.
“I believe the reader will be inspired by those students who embraced their difficult circumstances and used them as opportunities to grow stronger and achieve their dreams.”
In the chapter entitled, “A Second Chance,” the reader is introduced to Tina Desper (now Tina Desper Law), a talented seventh-grade basketball player whose bad attitude was tamed when she was benched during a championship game — one her team nearly won.
As difficult as it was to pull a starter out in a heated match, Thomas knew her decision could be a life lesson for the girl. And she was right.
“Tina realized that she was a part of something much bigger than herself,” Thomas wrote. “A new relationship began to form — a new respect for authority. A new leader emerged.”
Law went on to play high school basketball and was awarded a college scholarship. Now she is a teacher and basketball coach herself.
Although she makes her home in Florida, Law is scheduled to appear with Thomas over the weekend and do her part to help inspire others.
“I would just say first that (Thomas) took the time to care,” Law said. “She tried to gain a relationship and wasn’t just a coach.
“She got to know my family and what was going on with me as a person.
“Other kids can read (“Kids These Days”) and see there is hope; people do care,” she continued. “But, you got to be willing to let people help you and open up to let them know what’s going on.”
Thomas and some of her former students have, since March 21 of this year, shared “their stories and the strong message of this book” to over 6,000 people in four states, Thomas said.
“We have spoken to middle schoolers, high schoolers and in churches to both young and old,” she continued.
Another former LJHS basketball player whose story is told in the chapter entitled, “My First Challenge,” will be on hand this weekend.
Benita Bandy had a reputation for disciplinary issues among other teachers and seemed to have an “obvious dislike” of Thomas without them ever having actually met, Thomas wrote.
Imagine her surprise when Bandy showed up at basketball tryouts the very first season.
“There she was! What was she doing here?
“That same hate-filled glare, that same intimidating attitude...”
Thomas said, “It is heartbreaking to see, in a few cases, where kids felt that they had no where to turn, no one who cared.
“Some found solace on the streets, in gangs... Some dropped out of school.
“I have had a couple of students who have committed suicide — that is when you really question if there was something you could have done differently,” she said.
Although Bandy was difficult to reach, Thomas won her trust through consistent caring and “I began to witness an amazing transformation of an angry, troubled, seemingly uncaring person to a young lady who suddenly had a purpose,” she wrote.
Bandy, now living in New Jersey, received a basketball scholarship to Fairmont. But her journey took a few unfortunate turns over the years, including the unexpected death of her infant child and substance abuse.
“I blamed God for what happened,” Bandy said. “But now I see, when I look back over the years, that he didn’t let me down.
“He was right there by my side.”
Now she uses the lessons learned through it all to make a positive impact in the lives of others volunteering her time to mentor at-risk children.
“All these kids need is a little love,” Bandy said. “They need adults to take the time to listen; sit down and talk to them.
“You do this every day and sooner or later they’ll open up,” she continued. “You might be able to save them like Mary saved me.”
Two book-signing events are scheduled over the weekend where you may meet Thomas, Law, Bandy and other former students.
They will be at Taylor Books on Capitol Street from 3 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Sunday, they will be at the St. Anthony Catholic Church’s gymnasium on 6th Street from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Refreshments will be served.
Because St. Anthony’s has been the Endres’ home parish for generations, proceeds from books sales there will be donated to the church’s outreach programs in memory of Thomas’ mother, Bernice Endres.
Reach Marta Tankersley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1249.