Taking the Initiative

Passionate, generous, and driven are words one would use to describe Richard Bell, because of how many young people he has helped find their way. He has served as a substitute teacher and coach at Abraham Lincoln Middle School in Pontiac, MI, for the last 14 years, where his passion was ignited. Through his career, he was able to see the difficulties some young people face, and the lack of essential tools needed to succeed, including coats, gloves and breakfast. When Richard found himself going into his own closet and asking friends and family for basic items so kids didn’t have to go without them, the Kids First Initiative was born. Richard, looking to supply kids with confidence and the tools to advance while not focusing on their current circumstances. Kids First Initiative is in its seventh year, and they have provided many valuable workshops and services to kids from Pontiac, MI to Toledo, OH; and beyond.

Turning to Toledo

After working as a contractor at the BP Oil Refinery in Toledo, Bell began to research the city, and he discovered that, just like Pontiac, MI, the people were suffering due to economic downturn. Richard reached out to Toledo Public Schools, city hall, and the university to see how he could get his programs to people who could use some assistance.

Kids First’s flagship workshop, the Neck Tie Workshop, has reached children all over the country, where young men learn how to dress for success and how to actually tie a tie. He hopes to help them attain  future goals through enhanced confidence and self-respect.

In addition to putting together Neck Tie workshops, Richard also spearheads a Thanksgiving basket donation program. Between Pontiac, MI, and DeVeaux Elementary School in Toledo, Kids First handed out 1,700 baskets of donated items. Another program now kicking off is the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) Career Fair to give high school students more exposure to careers in engineering and technology. The next career fair will be held in Pontiac, MI, on May 20, and Toledo high school students will be transported to participate in the day’s events.

Strength of Role Models

Richard credits most of his life’s success to his parents and mentors, however, working with youth helped open his eyes to see others that are not as fortunate as he was growing up. Many of the students he encounters are lucky if they have one parent in the home; many are being raised by grandparents and other relatives. Seeing the struggle they endure makes him thankful for being raised by two parents and seeing the work ethic and discipline of his father.

Learning from his endeavors to help young people, Richard believes the most important three questions to ask young people are: “What do you want to do?  What do you like to do?  What can you do?” – taking an inventory of their skills and helping them to develop  short-term and long-term goals to get to where they want to be. 

To contact Richard Bell or for more information about how to get involved with the Kids First Initiative, visit www.kidsfirstinitiative.org or call 248-213-1419.

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