They may be on summer vacation from school, but children at the Sean Elijah Bell Community Center still have expectations put in them by the staff, including sitting and standing straight, and dressing with a sense of self-respect.
“And how can we help if you don’t do your homework?” a volunteer asked her young charges on Tuesday.
But now the center, which helps parents with their children and their schoolwork and safety, and job applicants with resume and interview tips, needs help from the community, or is at risk of closing by summer’s end.
“We’re not just helping with homework and day care,” William Bell, a co-founder of the Sutphin Boulevard Center that bears his late son’s name, said in a telephone interview last week. “We teach character. Parents bring their children here because it’s a safe place.”
William and Valerie Bell’s son, Sean, was killed in an infamous confrontation with police in 2006, hours before his wedding. He was in a car at which police fired 50 shots after the driver allegedly attempted to run over a police officer, and one of the officers said he saw a gun. No gun was ever found. The officers were acquitted of all criminal charges.
The center was founded in May 2011. Bell said some of the center’s difficulties have come from not wanting to turn anyone away, and in some cases problems with grant applications.
They have more grant paperwork with city and other possible funding entities. The center also accepts donations online at seanbellcenter.net.
A center volunteer said on Tuesday that their work is appreciated by parents in the community, particularly in some sections of the neighborhood.
“Go a few blocks one way and you have problems,” she said. “Go a few blocks another way and you have a teenage girl shot on a bus,” she said in reference to the D’aja Robinson killing in May.
“If children don’t have something to do, the street can become their boss,” Bell said.