Vera Bell learned early on the importance of sharing, giving and helping.
Her mother and father passed on a commitment to compassion for others. She soaked it up like a dedicated student, fueling a disciplined work ethic that remains to this day.
“Working took a lot of time. Once I retired, it was like, ‘Oh.’ I realized I could do more for my community. I got time to do it,” she says. “I set myself up in a position that I didn’t have to find a new job. And I was a young woman when I retired.’’
She found ways to help others at her church.
“My church is a senior church,” Bell says. “And so, people found out I was retired, and I ended up picking people up, taking them to the doctor and sitting there with them.
“I heard people complaining about all different things in the community,” she adds. “My question was always, ‘What are you doing to change it? What have you done?’ I had to look at myself: What was I doing? Getting involved. Being vocal. If I’m committed to something, I’m committed to it. And I’m going to work at it.”
At that point, she says, people began recommending her to serve on different boards and with community agencies.
Glenn Adams, chairman of the Cumberland County Board of Commissioners, nominated Bell for CityView Magazine’s 2022 Community Impact Awards presented by PWC. She will receive one of three awards presented this year.
Bell is recognized as the first woman in the history of the Fayetteville Police Department to achieve the rank of lieutenant. She worked with the force for two decades before retiring.
The extra time that retirement gave her opened a wider window of opportunity to volunteer her services.
“Let me tell you what: A lot of people have not heard of Vera Bell,” Adams says. “That’s because she doesn’t do it for any accolades. She’s working with nonprofits to make this community better.”
Adams says it was “a no brainer” to nominate his friend for the honor.
“I would tell you that if you call Better Health, United Way, Connections, Urban Ministry or you call our church, you’ll get the same thing from everybody.”
Adams and Bell both attend Smith Chapel Free Will Baptist Church in Fayetteville. Bell is active in Sunday school, youth programs and the praise team.
Adams figures he has known her for 20 to 30 years.
“She is no-nonsense,” he says. “Vera is about fairness, regardless. It’s about doing the right thing and making sure everybody’s included and everybody feels valued. I would tell you, I don’t go around nominating a lot of people. This one was easy for me. That’s the first name that came to my mind.”
United Way of Cumberland County was the first community organization that Bell became involved in. She remains on its board and served as president a year ago.
She is currently president of the board of Connections of Cumberland County, which supports single women and women with children who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. She also serves on the boards of Better Health of Cumberland County and Cumberland Community Foundation as well as King Hospitality, which helps finance construction of homes for lower-income people.
“She’s very committed to the mission,” says Christiana Adeyemi, executive director of Better Health of Cumberland County. “Her work ethic is excellent. She really takes that role seriously as a board member.”
Currently, Bell is treasurer of the Better Health board.
“I like helping, and I like seeing progress,” Bell says from her home in the Springdale neighborhood. “I like to know that it’s going to be better even though I may not be here to see it. But something that I’ve done or said is going to make it better, make our life in Cumberland County better. Or make someone’s life in Cumberland County better.”
Bell says all people should have a commitment to improving their community.
“We need to leave this world better than it was while we were here,” Bell says. “I don’t care if no one knows. I don’t care if they know or not. It just needs to be done, so I do it. I don’t mind doing it. And you don’t have to tell anyone that I did it. I don’t care.”
Bell, who was born and raised in the Lenoir County town of La Grange, was the eldest of five children in her family.
“La Grange was good to me,” she says.
She graduated from Goldsboro High School before earning a degree in sociology from Fayetteville State University in 1970.
After retiring from her law enforcement career, she spent time heading the city’s Environmental Services Department. The city manager assigned her to work with a nonprofit agency.
“That taste just stuck with me,” she says of her involvement.
Steadfast community service was among life’s lessons that her parents handed down. The family didn’t have a lot of money, Bell says, but one thing her parents did that the children saw was that they always shared whatever they had.
“There was always someone at our house eating because we ate. There was always someone that could stay at our house,” she remembers. “Even after my father died, my mother — there have been a couple of young ladies who stayed with my mother until they graduated from high school. And even today, they’re like an extension of our family.
“My mother and father always shared what they had, and I think all of us have come up doing the same thing — sharing and giving and helping.”
Mary Holmes, president and CEO of the Cumberland Community Foundation, says Bell joined that agency’s board of directors last year.
“I’ve wanted to have her on the board for a long time,” Holmes says. “It’s hard to find the time when she’s so busy leading everything else. She’s been a wonderful community volunteer. We were just kind of waiting until she was available.”
Holmes says Bell works well in a group. As a board member, she’s always prepared, and she’s not one to mince words.
“She’s not a rubber-stamper,” Holmes says.
Adeyemi, of the Better Health agency, says Bell’s widespread efforts go a long way.
“I know she’s very active with several other programs in the community, including United Way. So, it’s very impactful. She’s impacting life in our city by being so committed to what she does,” Adeyemi says. “I think she does outstanding work in the community.”
Commissioner Adams says Bell’s community work “has been invaluable. I know all that she does. I talk to her through the week. You can’t put a dollar value on what she has been able to do with this community. It’s just invaluable.”
Bell says she has passed her commitment to service to her daughter, Valarie, a home health care worker.
“She works with — and she’s good at this — those persons who have challenges,” her mother says with an obvious sense of pride. “She’s like my mama. She’ll take in anybody that don’t have a place to stay. She works in group homes. She’s really an advocate for people that have challenges.”