Bell Socialization volunteers lend hand at Royal Square Garden


On Tuesday, seven volunteers and a caseworker from Bell Socialization Services primed the walls of the Royal Square Garden for a mural that will eventually be painted there.

According to Lynsey Huyett, a Bell caseworker, volunteers go out every Monday and Tuesday to perform tasks for various organizations in the community. This is the group's second time volunteering at the Royal Square Garden.

Bell, based in York City, helps people with mental disabilities find jobs and housing as well as fostering skills that help them in their daily lives.

With the volunteer program, Bell aims to give back to the community, Huyett said. The organization hopes to make connections with local businesses and nonprofit organizations and to "demonstrate what clients can do and help hook them up with jobs."

At work: After a few minutes of instruction from Annalisa Gojmerac, the driving force behind the garden's development and daily operation, the volunteers got to work. One man knocked the dead remains of 40 years' worth of vines from a wall, and the rest began to dip rollers and brushes into trays of white primer.

The content of the mural hasn't yet been planned, but, Gojmerac said, "It's going to be fabulous."

The garden, which is surrounded by buildings on all sides, can be reached from South Duke Street through a path just past DiDi and Smiling John's Barber Shop.

"Last spring this was full of garbage," Gojmerac said. "The weeds were over our heads."

Volunteers have gotten the garden where it is now: squash, tomatoes, eggplants and chard grown there are donated to the Healthy World Cafe, Gojmerac said.

And there is never a dearth of volunteers. People jump at the chance to help fix up York City, she said.

"We are digging up York's history and making it live again."

A new beginning: Raymond Strike, a 20-year-old who lives in a group home in York City, spent part of his day rolling primer onto the wall. He has been volunteering with Bell since he got out of prison nine months ago.

Even though he has only a misdemeanor on his record, it's been hard to find a job he likes with a criminal record, Strike said.

Strike, who has Asperger's syndrome, spent seven months in prison after violating parole for a charge of theft by unlawful taking.

"I went to Florida," he said. He was found by officials and, handcuffed and shackled, crossed the country in a van with others who were being extradited.

"It was awful," he said. "I've learned my lesson."

Strike loves repurposing and fixing things up and hopes to land a job at Re-Source York.

Travis Hake, 28, has been a client of Bell for about a year and a half.

Hake, who has bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and lives in a group home in the city, doesn't have a paying job, but he enjoys volunteering.

"I like helping out the elderly," he said.

Last week, he went with the Bell group to the Lutheran Home to help residents with bingo and get them to socialize.

"It's a win-win," said Tony Jacquez, a worker with Royal Square Development, talking about the volunteer arrangement. "These volunteers have a difficult time dealing with day-to-day issues. If they know how to do something, it makes them feel good and makes them better able to get a job."