Photo by Craig Kleimeyer.
0912 Bell Center family
Homewood resident Patricia Weaver works with Emma twice a week in the “All about Me” class at The Bell Center.
The Bell Center is located in the heart of Homewood, and many Homewood residents are at the heart of the Bell Center. There, teenagers, Service Guild members and other volunteers dedicate two hours of their weeks to one-on-one time with children at-risk for physical and mental delays from ages birth to three.
Miles Braden, who lives in Homewood, first started the “Bright Beginnings” class at The Bell Center when he was six weeks old. The Bell Center employees have given Miles the one-on-one attention he needs, and the family atmosphere has been impressive, his mom Leah said.
The Bradens are one of about 100 families each year who receive early intervention services for their children at The Bell Center.
“The Bell Center is a good family of friends and support,” said the Homewood mom. “It’s like an exclusive club. The employees do a great job of teaching moms and dads how to work on goals at home too.”
The center offers early intervention services to children, often within a few weeks after birth. Programs are designed to promote growth in gross and fine motor skills, as well as language, cognition, self-help and play skills. Each child is evaluated annually, and goals are tailored specifically to the child’s needs.
“It’s a small place that does so much, and the kids are just incredible,” said Patricia Weaver, a Homewood resident since 1999. “It’s so rewarding. It’s also so important to help, and it is close by.”
The family-like bonds that staff, volunteers, parents and children form at the Bell Center don’t end when its students enter their public school system at age four.
“You get to know the kids so well, and even though they’ve left The Bell Center, I still see some of them because they are in Homewood,” Weaver said.
Weaver, a volunteer since 2006, works with a girl named Emma who travels all the way from Auburn twice a week for the “All About Me” class. Weaver and Emma participate in circle time with stories and songs, snack time, group art projects and spend time working on Emma’s gross and fine motor skills. .
“It’s so easy to take a couple of hours a week to volunteer for people who come that far,” Weaver said.
After her son grew up, Weaver started looking for something flexible to do. When she was on staff at the center, she was able to form close relationships with children, which got her interested in volunteering.
“I love working one-on-one with the children,” she said. “You get to see their progression, and you also don’t need any special training. They train you here.”
The Bell Center’s employees work together as a team with volunteers like Weaver and treat their students like family. The staff are all highly qualified professionals, including three physical and three occupational therapists, three speech/language pathologists and three early childhood special education teachers.
The center started in Homewood with five children in a Sunday school classroom in the basement of Trinity United Methodist Church in 1984. Ann Holloway, a member of Service Guild, and Betty Bell, who worked with the Center for Developing Learning Disabilities, spearheaded its start. The Center moved to its current location on 29th Court South in 1994.
Learning for both kids and parents together is the staff’s focus as well.
“If your child is not hitting developmental milestones, we would like everybody to know we are here,” program director Andi Gillen said.
Early childhood special education teacher Amy Fisher, a Homewood resident of 10 years, said that her experience on staff has been life-changing and that she has been blessed to have worked directly with families and young children.
“You will think you are coming to help the kids, but you will realize after working here that it will change your own life,” Fisher said.
The Service Guild of Birmingham provides volunteers for The Bell Center and also raises a large percentage of its budget, which they raised through the Guild Gala and The Bell Runners program.
“We work with all different kinds of kids, but we are just one organization, which makes it very unique,” president-elect for the Service Guild Nancy Ferren said. “It’s all about the kids at The Bell Center.”
The Bell Center has created a program that families need, and the staff puts a lot of time and research into every action and decision.
“When we make a change, it’s not done unless it’s a research-based practice,” Gillen said. “We’re holding true to that through the years with our premier early intervention services.”