A local mom has increased her dedication to running and the Bell Center as it has served her children.

0913-Arts-2As published in Birmingham magazine.

When Jennifer Andress’ 11-month-old son John was unexpectedly diagnosed as severely hearing-impaired in 2004, her pediatrician referred her to The Bell Center for Early Intervention Programs. Overwhelmed with the news, she scheduled an appointment to meet Betty Bell, the center’s founding director. Committed to providing crucial services at a critical juncture in a child’s life, The Bell Center offers therapy from licensed professionals for children from birth to 3 years of age, children at risk for developmental delay from diagnoses such as Down Syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy and premature birth. Programs include music time as well as visits from Hand-in-Paw therapy dogs.

Still in a post-diagnosis state of shock, Andress found herself in Miss Betty’s office, covered in Longhorns and burnt orange, the walls plastered with pictures of children who’d attended therapy at the Bell Center. “As a Texas Longhorn myself, I knew right then that I had somehow been led to this remarkable place, and just maybe everything was going to be OK,” Andress recalls.

Only five months after John’s diagnosis, her second son Will was born and diagnosed as profoundly deaf. In less than one year, both her sons were involved with The Bell Center, both benefiting from the staff’s expertise and love.

Andress’s involvement with the Bell Center has deepened each year since 2004. In 2006, she joined the Service Guild, an organization serving The Bell Center exclusively. In 2007, she joined what was then called the Partners-In-Training Relay team, committed to raising funds for The Bell Center in the name of a child receiving therapy there. As a casual runner, she also challenged herself to run the last eight-mile leg of the Mercedes Marathon relay. By 2008, she was ready to step up to the half-marathon as a partner-in-training.

In 2009, however, her life changed again. John’s hearing had progressed to the point he needed bi-lateral cochlear implants. As he entered the first grade, he faced a six-hour surgery and weeks of recovery. Luckily, John had Lisa Mooresmith as a teacher, herself the parent of Lilly, a baby girl who also had bi-lateral cochlear implants.

That fall when Andress returned to volunteer at The Bell Center, she was delighted to discover Lilly as a student in her class. “It was then I knew I had to run the Mercedes Marathon in Lilly’s honor,” says Andress, who’d progressed from running a “nervous” eight miles in 2007 to a full marathon in 2010, all to honor the children, therapists and staff of the Bell Center.

Almost a decade after her sons’ initial diagnoses, Andress is the chair of what is now called the BellRunners Program, a program recruiting runners of all ages and abilities to run the Mercedes Marathon, half-marathon or relay to raise funds for The Bell Center. “I have a terrific group of friends on my committee, and we are finding fun and new ways to raise awareness and funds for this wonderful facility.” A facility she had no way of knowing would become an integral part of her family’s and so many other families’ health and well being in the Birmingham community.

What are BellRunners?

BellRunners are runners or walkers who participate in any of the events (5K, half-marathon, marathon or relay team) of the Mercedes Marathon. Each person/relay team pledges to raise at least $100 per mile for The Bell Center.

Each BellRunner is paired with a child who they run and fundraise in honor of. The BellRunner will wear a photo of their child on the back of their shirts while they run.

There are many perks of being a BellRunner, including three socials throughout the year, access to trainers, entry into the Vulcan Run, a heated hospitality tent the morning of Mercedes Marathon, access into the VIP area at the post-race party, a red technical shirt and entry into the Mercedes Marathon.

The goal is to raise $250,000 with 300 BellRunners.
The Bell Center is the main beneficiary of the Mercedes Marathon, which was scheduled this year for Feb. 14-16.

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