Keep Liberty Beautiful’s newly appointed Executive Director Karen Bell has been on the job three weeks and is already reviewing the organization’s performance for the past year, while planning KLB events and activities for fiscal year 2019.
Bell recently took the reins from her predecessor and friend, Sara Swida, who led the organization for 12 years. Swida publicly made her goodbyes to KLB advisory board members and volunteers, as well as the larger Liberty County community, upon her retirement in May.
“We had some exceptional candidates for the position,” KLB Advisory Board Chairman Dave Sapp said.
However, it was Bell’s past experience with the advisory board and her community involvement that helped put her at the top of the list, according to Sapp.
“One of the things you look for in a director’s position is someone who can bring the community’s members together,” he said.
Bell is a known entity in the community and is respected in the community, Sapp added. The KLB chairman said Bell can easily continue KLB’s development and maintenance which is essential for the board to run an organization.
“Karen is everywhere,” said KLB advisory board member Lillian Gray. “She was on the board well before I was. And I worked with her through the Chamber of Commerce.”
“We [KLB] have such an amazing group of volunteers,” Gray continued. “They’re all very dedicated. The people on that board really want to do something important for our community. Karen Bell is probably as dedicated as a human being as I’ve met.”
“Karen has been the Board Chair for the Chamber for the last two years; but more than that, she is a great community member, active volunteer and friend,” said Liberty County Chamber of Commerce CEO Leah Poole. “She consistently goes above and beyond in everything she does, and I often think the word ‘no’ is not in her vocabulary. I am certain that she will continue to lead KLB in the right direction with the help of her active and engaged board.”
Bell, an Army veteran, made Liberty County her home in 2004.
“I came with the military,” she said. “This [Fort Stewart] was my last duty station. I was in the service for 26 years.”
According to Bell, she progressed from being involved in organizations like 4-H and Girl Scouts during her childhood to being involved in organizations like KLB and the Chamber.
Community involvement at a young age taught her the importance of preserving the environment and helping others, she said. Bell also served as a community volunteer at each of her duty stations while on active duty.
In 2006, Bell was first introduced to KLB while a student at Savannah Technical College. She was then president of the school’s student honor society. She and her fellow honor society members volunteered with KLB and Keep Savannah Beautiful on a joint project.
Bell credits Swida with drawing her in further to the organization when she began working part-time at KLB in 2009.
“The way Sara ran her program, we were more involved here in Liberty County than we were in Savannah,” Bell said. She added that under Swida’s leadership, KLB offered her more opportunities to work with children and youth.
“We do have some events where we partner with the schools,” she said. Bell listed campus clean-ups, school gardens, and recycling events such as the award-winning recycling program at Midway Middle School, and a recent partnership with the Hinesville Rotary Club on a science, technology, engineering, art and math project.
Bell said she would like to plan more activities with students at the elementary school level to get them interested in recycling and water preservation at a young age.
In addition to helping educate the community’s youth, Bell continues to pursue her own higher education. Along with an associate degree in early childhood education from Savannah Tech, she has bachelor and master’s degrees in human relations. The KLB director is currently working on her doctoral dissertation in advanced study in human behavior at Capella University.
Bell would also like to attract more individuals, organizations and business to KLB’s ongoing programs, such as the Adopt Liberty Program where groups adopt a road to clean up at least once a quarter.
“If we get more roads adopted, we can cut down the litter,” she said.
Bell added the KLB is preparing for its major fall programs, such as the Beach Sweep on St. Catherine’s Island Oct. 13, and Rivers Alive Oct. 27.
Bell credits advisory board members for their hands-on commitment to KLB.
“We have a working board,” she said. “They have so many hours they have to commit. They really pitch in and work; they’re usually the site leaders at clean-up events.”
She added her board members set up Recycle It! Fairs and help plan and implement Earth Day activities.
For more information, Bell can be reached at 912-880-4888 or email@example.com.