McKay School graduate Terri Fisher Jensen walked into her classroom on a cold November morning. She was prepared to teach her children just as she had all year. But her mind was focused on more than just teaching.
The family of one of her students was having financial problems. Jensen had talked with the mother and asked if she could help their family with Christmas. The mother expressed her gratitude for Jensen’s care and concern. What was said next was as touching as it was unexpected. This mother, knowing full well her own plight, spoke of her neighbors who were in worse shape than her family and the need to help them as well.
Deeply moved by this encounter, and with her mind focused on the needs of others, she decided to act. She contacted the local bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who was serving in the area. With his help and the help of many others, donations came in and the South Salt Lake/Inner City Sub for Santa program was born.
This program helps to supply clothes, books, school supplies, bedding, and many other things that families need during the Christmas season throughout the year. One teacher’s passion to help others grew into a program that helps hundreds of people every year. This action by Jensen is only one part of Jensen’s incredible story.
Jensen graduated from the McKay School with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1973 and retired from teaching in 2014. Her career was more than traditional teaching. Jensen’s teaching abilities helped her students to acquire new skills that would help them later in life.
When her children were young and in school she wanted to be involved in their education. She wrote and developed a literature enrichment program that she taught pro bono in the Washington DC area suburb schools (grades Pre K through five) for 12 years. This program included literature presentations and discussions about the
literary works being read and it helped the children establish good writing skills. The students used what Jensen had taught them and wrote journal entries throughout the year. Jensen was able to use her life experiences to teach her students life lessons such as perseverance and determination.
Jensen and her family are no strangers to hardship. Her daughter was hospitalized for six months following a car accident at the age of 16 and suffered severe brain damage. In the wake of this trying time Jensen saw the good that could come out of a bleak situation. Grateful for the excellent care they received at the Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital Jensen, her husband Larry became involved with fundraising for the hospital. She also served on the Shriners Children’s Hospital–Salt Lake City service board for eight years directing weekly family/patient activities there with her handicapped daughter's help for 13 years.
18 months later, Jensen was again involved in a car accident—this time with her mother. Jensen’s mother sustained serious injuries and eventually passed away due to complications from her injuries. Jensen also experienced severe injuries; the entire left side of her body was shattered.
Jensen learned many things about herself from these painful and difficult experiences. She also used these experiences to teach her students valuable lessons including how to pick yourself back up when life knocks you down. Over the years she taught her students about enduring life’s challenges and pressing forward.
Jensen’s compassion for others, born out of her life experiences, has helped her to work harder to give opportunities to those who do not have them. Jensen’s outlook and concern extends to individuals in her schools and across the globe. She serves on the board of Zambia’s Scholarship Fund that helps to bring educational opportunities to children and young adults in Zambia, southern Africa. For many years, Jensen and her family have helped native residents of Zambia become trained as teachers for children in the rural bush country, and the primitive schools there.
Jensen traveled to Zimbabwe, Africa in August of 2013 where she taught nine workshops to about 1,200 young men and women and their advisors. Of this experience, she says,
It was a stunning experience. One that words cannot capture. In addition to supplying thousands of books and school supplies for African children, so many gracious people continue to support the training of native teachers and the success of primitive schools through student scholarships, building repairs, clothing allotments, and supplying tools such as treadle sewing machines, woodworking implements, pots for cooking and on and on.
From the plains of Africa to the capital of the United States, Jensen has touched the hearts and minds of so many people. Jensen has shown her amazing character many times over and has had a successful career as a teacher. The focus for Jensen has always been on people, not things; progress, not checklists. Though it has been hard work, for her, it’s been worth it. She says,
The work of teaching has been harder than I ever imagined. I have been weary to the bone more days than I can count. But every day of effort, of loving, of awakening the magic within the minds and souls of children, is a journey of absolute delight. We learn so much from those we profess to teach. It is those young “teachers” in our classrooms that fling open unexpected dimensions of discovery in one's soul, leading us places where our teaching can make a difference in ways that we never imagined. Who would have thought?
Terri Jensen is married to Larry Jensen. They have three daughters and seven grandchildren.
Contact: Shauna Valentine (801) 422-8562