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CWW Vol- Andra Bell 20220201 2598 (LowRes).jpg




Editor's note:  This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

I'm Andra Bell and I was the chairwoman of a senior Advisory Committee for the town of Westwood and I serve as a minister of Mount Zion Baptist Church.


The Senior Advisory Committee was put together because there were a lot of issues that seniors had, especially with safety. There had been several accidents involving seniors pedestrians and driving and just being unable to get from place to place. So the town of Westwood decided that they needed to form a Senior Advisory Committee to take care of the concerns of seniors. And after we got started, we found out yeah, that seniors had a lot more concerns. Besides, you know, just transportation being able to get from place to place there was also issues with food scarcity with shopping. A lot of social issues, especially after COVID people feeling isolated. So we joined with Westwood For All Ages, The Reilly Center and different senior organizations in town to try to come up with solutions for senior issues.


One of the things that we did was we got senior parking at the mall. We got extended van service to those that were underserved in the community. People knew about the seniors that were in senior residences, but there were a lot of seniors in Westwood that are not in those buildings. So again, with this social isolation, not knowing what social things, were open to them. We also were able to work with the churches just to find out ways to include seniors more in everyday life and it ended up being really great. We got a lot of participation, we got a lot of other organizations to join us in finding ways to support the senior community.  One of the best things was when the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts got involved in, you know, the multi-generational participation that was really good. It was very rewarding. It was a lot of seniors. They're fun to hang around with.


As far as my years as a minister at Mount Zion. Most of the time that I've been there I have been a youth minister. Dealing with children, most of them who are early school age from five to 13. Finding ways for them to participate not just in church life but to participate in community activities.  Community activities were one of the things that we really pushed for was having improvements done to Hegeman Park on Sand Road. That was something that came out of Hayden Smith, who was a member of our church, who was very adamant that our our parks should be improved. So the children got to see other organizations, religious organizations got together and we formed Friends of Hegeman Park Committee, and that ended up being a project that the town council helped us, to take care of and our park has been improved. And since that time, it's absolutely beautiful.


Just one of the things I love about participating in the church activities is how all of the churches in Westwood come together, yearly, they have specific things that they make sure that they do, you know, honor Martin Luther King together, during Christmas time and during the holidays there's always programs that go on that we all participate in. The clergy Council is very supportive of not just church things, not just religious things but also very active in the town.


But yeah, I love Westwood. I've been living in Westwood my entire life. I work at Berkeley School now and I went to school at Berkeley.  Just the community centered attitude, the way that anyone who wants to participate can find a place there's no one that's ever left out.

There are so many things that I know people complain about, especially when it comes to people of different races, people of different cultures, feeling that they don't have a voice or that the concerns that they have are not addressed. I don't find that to be the case in Westwood. I'm glad that I didn't even seek out the position as president of the Senior Advisory Committee I was approached Councilman Chris Montana. I mean, what town can say that when they are looking for people to volunteer for things that they will actually go out and seek you out? You don't have to be there banging on the doors.

I would say one time that stands out that I realized my volunteering was important or impactful to the community was in the Senior Advisory Committee, when they were saying that they wanted more participation for the community van. I had no idea what that was about because I never used the van. I never even knew it really existed. The first time I rode on the thing and saw the seniors and how important it was for them to get to where they were going. And when I asked them if they would go into my neighborhood which was not the regular you know, one of the regular stops. They came they drove around the neighborhood just to see how much seniors appreciated the fact that someone had listened in that room. Oh, you know, taking the time out to have them come and just see how much it meant to them as far as seeing one another. I was really touched by that. It was extra important to really pay attention to what they needed -- to their committees to their social groups, church clubs, making sure that we see and talk with each other. It was yeah, it was very touching. And they know each other so well.


What would I say to other people who are interested in volunteering? I would say do it 100%. Do it for no other reason than that you personally get a greater insight into the town and to the people that live here. You will get to know so much by volunteering, getting out of your comfort zone or getting out of your routine.  Once you volunteer, just stay committed to it. Make sure that whatever it is that you volunteer for educate yourself to it completely and  set attainable goals or at least measurable goals. Because something that can be frustrating about volunteering is when you feel like you put a lot of work into something but you don't see any return for your work. Have in your mind, what you're going to bring to it and what your goal is or so that you don't get distracted every time something doesn't go your way.


I love Westwood. I always have. I feel like it's a great place for anyone to come to live to feel part of. I feel like people have a voice here. I feel like neighbors really care about each other here. I feel like it's a rare event as we go into 2022. The more people that come to the town, the more the town works to keep that community feel. And it's not really about me, but for me that's really important because places that I have been in that I had to live. People didn't know their neighbor across the street. You know, just a little anecdote. My father -- We lived in Maryland for about two years -- got transferred for his job. While he was there he was very sick. And one day ambulance came to our house took him and you know, that was it. Not one person came to ask, you know what happened if he was okay if we were okay.

And I'm so happy to say that that was so foreign to me. Because I was used to living in a place where, you know, if something happens to your neighbor, the least the person will do is walk across the street.  Community is so important. I don't want to be in place where we live around strangers.


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