Darien couple values volunteering
Amy and Tom Bell have a long history of service to Darien.
Amy is executive director of the Darien Community Association (DCA) and founder of 100 Who Care Darien, a group that contributes to local charities from members’ pooled funds.
Tom is regional sales manager for MTI in Oregon, where he is responsible for selling tablet-based hardware. He is also a volunteer harbor master for Darien.
The couple has lived in town for 26 years and raised two daughters.
Amy has volunteered for many years, which, she said, has “helped me understand the town of Darien.”
She served on the Darien Board of Education, was PTO co-chairman at Royle Elementary School, special education budget representative for the Council of Darien School Parents, and a Girl Scout leader.
When her children were young, she volunteered for Mom’s Morning In, a group for mothers and caregivers and the children in their care. It was sponsored by and held at the DCA.
When the position at the DCA became open seven years ago, “It felt like I was coming full circle,” Amy said.
The DCA, which is 96 years old, is a privately-funded, nonprofit organization offering a wide variety of activities and programs for people of all ages and interests.
Amy said what makes the DCA unique is that it provides a “breadth of programming and opportunity for community connection, which is a really key part of our mission.”
Programs offered by the DCA include an art lecture series, book talks and signings, bridge and mahjong classes, as well as a piano group, a men’s association, and financial workshops.
In addition, the DCA offers a large college scholarship program. Since its inception 78 years ago, the DCA has awarded over $2 million in funding to over 1,300 Darien High School students. This year, the DCA granted $65,000 to graduating seniors, as well as college students who reapplied to the program, according to Amy.
The DCA is a community organization “so we like to have the kids in our community have the opportunity to pursue a college education,” Amy added.
The DCA also has a four-acre bird sanctuary, which is open to the public during daylight hours.
The bird sanctuary has insects, plantings, shelter, food and water for the birds. There are also trails and children’s educational features.
“It helps provide education and awareness about conservation and wildlife,” Amy said, adding that people who come to the sanctuary can enjoy the additional benefits being outside in nature provides.
The DCA also owns and operates the DCA Thrift Shop, which is entirely volunteer-run. People donate items to the thrift shop that they don’t need. The thrift shop sells them and uses the proceeds to help fund everything the DCA offers the community.
“The thrift shop provides a vital community service,” Amy said. “People have a place where they can shop on a budget.”
“We look at ourselves as being a place where everyone in the community can gather, give, and learn. We really think there is something here for everyone,” said Amy, in regard to the DCA. “We continue to evolve and try new things.”
For 14 years, Tom ran the Darien Professionals Networking Group for people in job transition.
He is also the secretary on the board of the Darien Boat Club, a small community organization that provides people with access to the water.
In addition, he serves as secretary of the Pear Tree Point Building Committee.
As Darien’s harbor master, Tom enforces boating laws, tracks floating dock specifications, assigns mooring spaces, and replaces and maintains buoys.
“I work with people who are trying to get on the water, such as if they recently purchased a boat and need a mooring,” he said, adding that a harbor master is a state position.
There are seven harbors under his jurisdiction.
“You need to store your boat at a mooring or a club,” Tom said. “For the 350 people that have moorings in town, it’s a repetitive process every year.”
For families with children, he said he strongly recommends buying a boat that has a “head” for a bathroom.
“That’s personal experience with us. Our kids were very young and having this was a big convenience,” he said.
The Bells said they both love the water. They own a 20-foot Hydra-Sport boat.
“When we go out on the boat, we are always meeting couples,” Tom said. “We go any chance we get, probably about two days a week.”
The couple swims and grills food on their boat.
“We love the boat, we love the socialization of the boat,” Amy said. “We love the beach.”
Tom, who grew up in Flushing, NY., said he used to go out with his grandparents on their boat.
“My grandparents had a summer place on a lake in upstate New York where I learned to fish, drive and water ski on the beach and ocean,” he said.
Like Tom, Amy, who is from New Jersey, also grew up spending summers on a lake and at the New Jersey shore.
The couple has a golden retriever named Rudy.
“The best thing about our boat relationship is that our dog likes it more than we do,” Tom quipped. “We take him out with us about 50 percent of the time.”
“We both feel very lucky to live in Darien,” Amy said. “It’s a wonderful community with great people. So being able to work at a job where you feel you can impact the community in a positive way — that’s a gift.”