LIFT-UP rings in new director Perry Bell
There’s a feeling you get when you do something kind and selfless for someone in need. For Perry Bell, LIFT-UP’s new executive director, that feeling is constant during every day in his work with this regional nonprofit, which provides services to those experiencing unemployment, underemployment or poverty.
“It’s good work,” Bell said simply. “To be able to give a hungry person a plate of enchiladas, rice and corn is incredibly rewarding, and at LIFT-UP, we get to do this every day.”
Bell is no stranger to rewarding occupations. Prior to receiving his master’s degree in marriage and family counseling, Bell was a Lutheran pastor for five years. He spent 15 years as a therapist while serving as a consultant for various nonprofits, including a Native American children’s welfare organization and a family resource center.
A move to Colorado from Wisconsin in 2000 precipitated another career move. Bell worked as funeral director at Farnum Holt Funeral Home in Glenwood Springs, where he was able to use his background in counseling to assist grieving friends and family members. He also served as deputy coroner for Garfield County.
“In the course of a year and a half, the Aspen plane crash, the Rifle shootings, Tom Lubchenco’s murder and the [Oregon] firefighters automobile accident all occurred,” he said. “I was on all of these cases.”
It was a classified ad in this newspaper that appeared a little over a month ago that caught Bell’s attention. Former LIFT-UP director Steve Carcaterra was leaving his post, and the organization’s directorship job was opening up. For Bell, serving as LIFT-UP’s director seemed like the next step in a long path of service.
“I’d worked with LIFT-UP during the Rifle shootings (in which four people were allegedly killed by Michael Stagner), and I’d seen them in action,” Bell said. “I saw what an incredible group of people were involved in this organization, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.”
Now, sitting at his desk at LIFT-UP’s main administrative office in Glenwood Springs, Bell seems completely at ease in his role, and completely immersed in the organization’s inner workings.
A group of area pastors and concerned community members formed LIFT-UP in 1982, initially to respond to the large numbers of oil shale workers who found themselves unemployed when the regional oil industry abruptly came to a halt.
“Pastors – and the term `pastor’ is a general term for a spiritual leader be it a rabbi, priest or minister – wanted to address the notion of needy people knocking on the doors of churches and places of worship in search of help,” Bell said. “LIFT-UP was their way to group together and collectively provide this kind of service.”
Though LIFT-UP does have a theological foundation (the name is actually an acronym for Life Inter-Faith Team against Unemployment and Poverty), the organization isn’t tied to any particular religion.
“We provide service, grace and servanthood,” explained Bell. “We absolutely serve anyone and everyone in need.”
Interestingly, this doesn’t necessarily just mean the homeless man on the corner or the single mom down on her luck. LIFT-UP also provides immediate assistance and can refer people to appropriate agencies who have experienced disasters such as fires and floods, or to those who have been physically abused and have nowhere to turn.
The numbers of people who receive help from LIFT-UP in the course of a year is impressive. In 2001, 4,558 families from Carbondale to Parachute received food from the organization – an especially impressive number when one considers that LIFT-UP operates five offices and a soup kitchen with just six paid staff members. Assistant director Janelle Weidler and office manager Micaela Johns both work in the main office.
“The great thing about LIFT-UP is the sense of teamwork,” Bell said. “This isn’t `Perry’s LIFT-UP’ or `Janelle’s LIFT-UP.’ This is a group effort.”
Essential to this team is the over 400 volunteers who work an average of one day a week during the winters and one day a month during the summers to keep the nonprofit going.
“LIFT-UP would not exist without our volunteers,” Bell said. “They’re indispensable to our success.”
So how does Bell manage to guide the staff and volunteers of this Garfield County-wide organization, with offices in Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, New Castle, Rifle, and Parachute, while managing LIFT-UP’s Extended Table Soup Kitchen?
“I do a lot of visiting,” he said. “During the course of a week, I’m at one of our five offices at least once. And you can find me or any one of us mopping floors, serving food or doing the dishes at the Extended Table.”
The soup kitchen is located at the First United Methodist Church on Cooper Avenue in Glenwood.
For the future, Bell’s priorities are to maintain the good work LIFT-UP does in the community.
“I have the same goals as those who started this organization in ’82,” Bell said. “There will always be homeless, hungry, disenfranchised people. We need to be there for them – always.”
For more information on LIFT-UP and its programs – which include food distribution, emergency access to food banks, emergency gasoline, agency and community referral, short-term emergency shelter, vouchers for clothing and household items, and a five-day-a-week soup kitchen – contact LIFT-UP at 945-2005 or visit http://www.liftup.org.
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