GREENSBORO — Inside an office with his name on the door at the old Bell House campus, Carl Haislip is using a keyboard and pointer attached to his head to manage the website he built and oversees for the HandyCapable Network.
“Whatever I don’t know,” the 42-year-old webmaster said, slowly enunciating his words with a wry smile as his cerebral palsy causes his legs to flail about, “I Google.”
Earlier, Haislip took part in the announcement that the Bell House property that once held apartments providing independent living for disabled adults before it closed would now be known as Bell Campus — an arts and technology community with the goal of improving the quality of life for “differently-abled” participants and the aging.
The Bell House board, which is disbanding, gifted the property and $150,000 to the Creative Aging Network-NC and the HandyCapable Network, which created Bell Campus in a nod to the people who once worked and lived here.
“It will be another jewel,” said City Councilwoman Goldie Wells after a tour.
The HandyCapable Network, a locally-run organization which works with people with varying degrees of developmental disabilities, refurbishes donated computers and offers them at a steep discount to senior citizens or low-income families. The Creative Aging Network offers programming, education and training for the aging, including an artist collective for older adults.
Both groups, which have already moved into the building, continue to look for funding sources to expand their work. They want to help participants develop their natural talents, stay active and give back to the community.
“Short of bringing Bell House back, our board cannot think of a better group to transfer this to,” Bell House chairman John Murray said.
Lots of smiles marked the moment Tuesday afternoon as people with fond memories of Bell House gathered to hear the news.
“We promise that we will do our best to provide an opportunity for people who are differently able and aging,” said an emotional Lia Miller, the Creative Aging Network’s founder.
Back in 2014, there were tears for the closing of Bell House, as the nonprofit that ran it had to find homes for 20 residents — some who had been there for decades — with significant physical disabilities. The federal government no longer supported the group’s housing model, even though it was nationally accredited.
A dedicated community had been involved with Bell House from the beginning. It opened in 1979 to serve people with ortho-neurological physical disabilities, such as cerebral palsy and spina bifida. Nearly all Bell House residents, some in their 20s, needed wheelchairs to get around.
Residents had their own rooms. Some used public transportation to go to jobs, local colleges or the mall.
“There will be just as much energy, just as much purpose, just as much love,” promised Robin Morgan, the HandyCapable Network’s executive director.
Even as Bell House received exceptional ratings, the federal government ruled in 2014 that people with especially severe physical disabilities who wanted to remain eligible for Medicaid funding had to live in a group home with three or fewer residents. Some could live in apartments, but they would have to meet specific requirements.
But not at Bell House.
The setup for Bell Campus is a perfect fit for the artists, whose work stations bulge with colorful materials and items to be repurposed. The artists rent the spaces. Some of them are retired while others are just discovering a craft. The idea is to cultivate a community of artists as well as things for the elderly to do.
Downstairs, HandyCapable’s work areas are spread along the corridor of offices. There, technicians — better known as “HandyTechs” — were meticulously giving new life to computers donated by law firms, hospitals, companies and individuals.
HandyTechs are classified as volunteers because any income could interfere with benefits that pay for their healthcare or housing.
“People think we’re babysitters — and that’s definitely not the case,” Morgan said.
Haislip, who built Bell House’s first website while living there, is pursuing a certificate in web development at Guilford Technical Community College.
“I don’t like to focus on the can’t,” said Haislip, now troubleshooting an issue with the website.
After Bell House closed, he lived in a group home and an assisted-living facility before finally moving into his own apartment with the help of 24-hour assistants. He uses a motorized computer to get around with help from assistant Lennox Holiday.
There are good memories as he passes spaces where he and his friends once gathered that now ring with laughter and work.
“I’m very grateful for Bell House because they taught me how to be independent, and they encouraged it as well,” Haislip said.
And Morgan hopes that can soon be said of Bell Campus.
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