11/13/2006 at 01:00 AM EST
With its dope peddlers and crackheads, Los Angeles's San Julian Street is no place for kids. That's why Agnes Stevens is here looking for them. "They don't come to us," says the 71-year-old teacher and former nun, "so we come to their world." Stevens is the founder of School on Wheels, a band of 335 volunteer tutors who scour homeless shelters, motels and even cars, looking for school-age kids who have fallen through the educational system's cracks in and around L.A. Last year SOW, based in a skid row storefront, tutored some 1,350 of them, distributed free backpacks with books and school supplies and counseled homeless parents on the importance of getting—and keeping—their kids in school. Stevens is adamant: "These kids didn't choose to be homeless, and they're going nowhere if they can't read or write." Robert Rhone was once destined for such a fate. Then, at 13, living in a Venice shelter, he met Stevens. She taught him history and math. Now 25, Rhone is an insurance claims rep living in Chicago with fond memories of his former tutor. "She always had time for us," he says. "Nothing matters to her but the kids."