By Emily Williams
“Children all have potential, and they all have to be loved and cared for,” is a quote from Betty Bell, founding director of The Bell Center for Early Intervention.
On July 30, center officials, families, staff and supporters gathered to celebrate the opening of a new facility designed specifically to care for children at risk of developmental delays.
“In 1984, a small group of women had a vision, a vision born out of a small classroom at Trinity United Methodist Church,” said Benny LaRussa, who co-chaired the campaign to raise money for the new building, “A vision to provide early intervention services to children born with developmental delays. A vision to hire Betty Bell, a highly skilled nurse with a vision of her own. “
Jill Deer of Brasfield and Gorrie also co-chaired the fund drive, which raised $8.6 million in project funds for the 18,000-square-foot facility.
“This is a very easy place to get behind,” said LaRussa. “All you have to do is show up when the kids are in action with the professional staff and it sells itself.
“I don’t think I have ever been involved, in all of my years of any kind of fund development, of being given an opportunity like this one.”
With its new building, the center hopes to increase its classes.
According to Executive Director Jeannie Colquett, the facility’s staff is thrilled with the result.
“For 35 years, the Bell Center has provided early intervention services to infants and toddlers,” Colquett said. “Even more than that, we have provided a community to our families, and now this community has a home that will help it grow bigger and grow stronger and more closely knit.”
At the ribbon-cutting, Bell stood alongside Colquett and project leaders to help cut the ribbon on the facility that will carry the organization she helped found into the future.
“Betty never wanted anything other than to make a difference in the lives of children with special needs and their families, and I think she’s done that and much, much more,” Colquett said.
The new facility offers spaces the old facility didn’t have the room to include, allowing for up to 60 more participants.
The building includes a third toddler room, a third infant room, a small-group instruction room, a toddler playroom and a sensory room. The facility has been outfitted with updated technology, specifically high-tech classrooms with smart boards and sound systems.
Finally, a backyard space allowed the project team to create a playground to accommodate children with special needs.
More than a year before the ribbon cutting, on July 25, 2018, a similar crowd of people gathered on the empty lot after the old Bell Center had been demolished. They were there to ceremonially break ground on the project in partnership with Brasfield & Gorrie, Live Design Group and Perry Design.
A Decade in the Making
Though the work to plan the new building began about four years ago, the vision for the center’s future had been in the works for a decade.
“It was a labor of love for sure,” said Deer. “It really started about four years ago, by a small group of board members led by Douglas Lee.”
Deer noted that Lee helped coordinate a conversation with staff to decide what tools the facility needed to serve participants in the best way possible.
Two years later, she noted, the project team came together to start the work.
“We are past excited about the new opportunities that will come as a result of this project,” said Bell Center board President Dow Briggs. “It’s been a long journey to get us to where we are today.”
Briggs noted that the new building was designed to enhance and accelerate the center’s offerings for the future.
“As a physician, I’ve seen firsthand how having the right people in the right environment can really make a difference in the lives of people,” he said. “And I’m convinced that that will happen here. Now that I see the new center, it’s kind of hard to believe the unbelievable care and services that were provided at the old site.”
On Aug. 24, the center’s junior board will host its 11th annual Tailgate Challenge from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Last year, the fundraiser was held on the empty lot; this year, attendees will taste tailgating dishes alongside the new building.
In addition to a team cooking competition, the festivities will include music, football team mascots, games and more.
The event will raise funds for the facility’s operational costs as staff help transition its participants from early intervention through preschool.
For more information, visit thebellcenter.org.