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Bell House launches expansion drive

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Bell House

Bell House

Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — At Bell House, an assisted-living facility in Greensboro that serves people with disabilities, five of the 22 residents have lived at the facility since it opened in 1979, 18 have lived there 25 years or more, and only two are able to walk.

So the nonprofit’s staff of about 30 people, one-third of them working part-time, help the non-ambulatory residents perform tasks that most people take for granted, like eating, getting into and out of bed, and using the bathroom.

But with a waiting list of 14 people for beds that rarely are available, Bell House cannot handle demand for services and is planning to expand.

In late 2009, the nonprofit received a certificate of need from the state that will let it expand to 40 beds.

And in March, Bell House kicked off the public phase of a campaign to raise $4 million, an effort that began with a quiet phase last October and already has raised $2.65 million from private sources.

Chaired by Al Capps, a principal at Pilot Financial Advisors, the campaign has received a gift from Revolution Properties Holdings of 6.7 acres worth an estimated $1.2 million; an anonymous gift of $1 million; and a $100,000 gift from a family member of a resident.

Bell House, which never before held an annual fund drive or any other strategic fundraising effort in its 31 years, also has hired Carley Williams, who formerly headed the women’s-leadership and young-leaders initiatives at United Way of Greater Greensboro, as the organization’s director of development and communications.

“We recognized the need to have a development office as part of our strategic planning and development for the future to ensure our viability,” says Jeni Kirk, the organization’s executive director.

Developed on two acres Cone Mills donated in 1976, Bell House operates with an annual budget of just over $1 million, a total that will grow to over $1.44 million once the new expanded facility opens, likely next spring.

The nonprofit receives funds from Medicaid, although it is reimbursed at only about 60 percent of the known cost of actual care, Kirk says, and from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In March, Bell House paid off the HUD mortgage it had had since 1979.

While it is licensed as an assisted-care facility, Kirk says, Bell House aims to provide the equivalent of independent living for its residents.

“We’re a home for some, meaning they will live here probably for their whole adult life, and we’re a gateway for others,” she says. “Sometimes residents will come to us as a first place of residence as an adult, and we help them with independent-living skills and help them find a place for their   needs, like an apartment with a caregiver, or a smaller setting like a group home.”

While the Bell House residents, who range in age from 20 to 79, have physical disabilities, “cognitively they are fine,” Bell says. “These remarkable individuals are just living in bodies that don’t work well for them. They just have to do things in a different way.”

People who contribute to the annual muscular dystrophy telethon hosted by Jerry Lewis, for example, often are moved by seeing young children who face the challenge of living with a disability, Kirk says.

“What people forget is that those little children grow up and the disability does not go away,” she says. “We still need your support. That cute little child you so readily gave funds to when they were five is now 25 and needs the same level of assistance, but there is just not that passion for adults. We desperately need their support.”

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