Inspired to put kids first

Growing up in Pontiac, Independence Township resident Richard Bell recalls different coaches, teachers, and family members who lent him a helping hand when he needed one. It was those people who inspired him to give something of himself back to the community.
Bell is the founder and president of the non-profit organization Kids First.
‘Our objective is to aid those who are less fortunate,? said Bell. ‘We are dedicated to creating tools and services to help the less fortunate get back on their feet and start more productive more joyful lives.?
Kids First started in 2006, while Bell was working at Lincoln Middle School in Pontiac as a substitute teacher and football coach.
‘I would see kids walking around without coats and I would say ‘where’s your jacket at?? They would say ‘I don’t need a jacket.? It was freezing outside,? he said. ‘They were embarrassed to say they didn’t have a jacket.?
Bell talked to the school counselors and had them call parents to find out what kids needed coats. He ended up handing out eight coats that he bought for $9 a coat from the former Farmer Jacks on Sashabaw Road.
In 2007, Kids First started handing out Thanksgiving baskets to help families who didn’t have the resources for a Thanksgiving meal for their family.
Bell said in the first year they gave out 28 baskets, in 2008 they gave out 168. This year they’re planning on handing out 1,000.
‘The basket thing has been a real good thing for us,? he said. ‘It’s gotten a lot of publicity and helped us get the word out.?
This year Kids First will also be handing out five college book scholarships to different kids in the local community. Clarkston High School is one of the schools that will receive a scholarship.
‘Every student will receive $250 dollars for books each year for four years,? said Bell.
He said the criteria for the scholarship has not been determined as of yet. He currently has a professional writing it, but he said it wouldn’t be based solely on academic grades or sports.
Bell said he has already contacted Joan Patterson of the Clarkston School Board about doing a mentor program at all the Clarkston Schools. He is currently waiting to hear back from her and the board.
They are going to pick 50 kids from the middle schools, junior highs and high schools and show them how to tie neckties,? he said.
The ties will be provided to the kids by Kids First.
‘What it’s doing is kind of empowering the young,? said Bell. ‘There are a lot of grown men who can’t tie neckties. I just learned two and half years ago myself.?
Kids First also helps with job preparation including writing resumes, filling out job applications and conducting mock interviews.
‘After the interview they are critiqued on how well they did, whether or not they gave good eye contact, spoke to softly, or gave a firm handshake those kinds of things,? said Bell.
Kids First has also donated money and time at Saint Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac Pediatrics ward. Bell said they took their Lincoln Middle School football team to the hospital to hand out 20 professionally signed footballs to the kids.
‘The kids were so excited to receive footballs from our kids and our kids were excited to wear their jerseys and give the footballs out,? he said. ‘We gave the hospital $100 our first year out and last year we gave them $300. We hope to do more with them in the future.?
Bell stresses the importance of board members being an example to the kids.
‘You really have to be careful of the places you go and the things you do. Everybody on our board we tell them it’s all about image. When you go out you don’t represent yourself, you represent Kids First organization,? he said. ‘When we go out to meet with people we have to make sure we have a shirt and tie on, look presentable, really try to be on time.?
Bell grew up east side of Pontiac and graduated from Pontiac Northern in 1990.
‘We had a good rivalry going then with Clarkston High School,? he said. In 1991 Bell headed off to West Los Angeles College.
‘When I was here in Michigan I was an All-State football player, but I was kind of a knucklehead so to speak. I didn’t really take care of my business in the classroom,? Bell said. ‘I was a proposition 48, that’s when you are academically ineligible to play division one football your first year.?
He said the principal from Lake Orion High School helped him get into college.
He was teammates and roommates with NFL stars Isaac Bruce and Keshan Johnson.
‘One of the biggest things I learned in California was adversity. I was out there during the Rodney King riots,? he said. ‘History sometimes is good, sometimes it’s bad, but it was interesting for me to see it from that point of view.?
From Los Angeles, Bell went on to the University of Alabama where he studied History and Criminal Justice, as well as played football.
‘My experience was great down there,? being at that university, a historical university when there was a lot of the civil rights things took place at. Then going back to the Civil War where Union soldiers came through and burnt down part of it,? he said. ‘Being a history major that was very exciting to me and also the football history and things like that.?
When Bell returned home to Michigan after graduation he played a year of semi-pro football and a year of arena football with the Flint Flames, but the Flames ended up folding.
In 2003, Bell lost his apartment in Pontiac due to a fire. While trying to figure out what to do, he received a call from a football coach who wanted Bell to play in Germany.
‘By and far that was my best experience playing football because I couldn’t believe that people were willing to pay me money to go over and live in German to play and get a salary,? he said. ‘The only thing I had to do was go to football practice.?
Being 24-years-old, Bell said his ambition for pro football was gone, but he looked at Germany as a unique opportunity to see Europe and enjoy some history.
‘There were a lot of people who knew Hitler or where around when Hitler was and things like that. Just the German culture itself was interesting,? Bell said. ‘People were so nice. At times I felt more comfortable there than I did in Michigan. People were not concerned about the color of my skin. They were interested to know why I was over there.?
When he returned to Michigan he got a job substitute teaching history and algebra at Pontiac Central High School and coaching football at Lincoln Middle School.
‘In Pontiac they pay you $185 a day to come in and work. Having summers and holidays off, while coaching at the same time is not a bad deal,? Bell said. ‘I didn’t think I would be around 10- 11 years later doing the same thing, but it’s been a great ride.?
There will be a Kids First fundraiser on Friday, March 27 from 6-10 p.m. at JD’s Key Club in Pontiac located at 1 North Saginaw Street. Admission is $10 at the door, which includes a raffle ticket and a chance to win cash prizes.
‘One hundred percent of the admission and 50 percent of bar tabs will go directly to Kids First,? said Bell.
The evening will also include Memorabilia, silent auction, food, live entertainment, professional networking and special guests. For more information visit or call Richard Bell at 248-494-0520 or e-mail
‘We’re here to service people, we here to service the kids, it’s the bottom line,? Bell said. ‘We’re not here to get paid and we’re not here to do anything else.?