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December 2, 2019

Faces of Fauquier: She sees the potential in everyone

Photo/Lawrence Emerson
CEO Lynne Richman Bell talks in the Boys & Girls Club of Fauquier’s new cafe with Serenity Lauderdale, Jordyn Rivera and Miyah Jolley.
Now, there’s a greater understanding and belief in what we do. That’s something we share every day.
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Growing up in the middle of Texas, the Boys & Girls Club of Fauquier chief executive had entirely different plans for her career.

“I wanted to be a professional singer and a rider,” Lynne Richman Bell explained.

She rode Western saddle, then dressage horses and started taking voice lessons in middle school before earning a bachelor’s degree in music, with an emphasis on opera.

But, Ms. Bell’s life has taken her all over the country and has made her resume diverse. Her first marriage decades ago led to jobs in education, from Maine to Middleburg to Midland. She later worked for two local companies in the construction industry.

In April 2014, she accepted the top job with the local Boys & Girls Club, struggling with crippling debt for its $1.8-million purchase of a former fitness club building on Warrenton’s Keith Street four years earlier.

“The first year I was there, I wrote a plan to close it, as well as to save it,” Ms. Bell said of the club.

The organization couldn’t possibly pay off its mortgage and had trouble attracting enough financial support to maintain its after-school and summer programs for children. The club’s leaders focused on the members, ages 6 through 16, but its governance and financial management needed overhaul.

Gradually, the board and Ms. Bell, built “capacity,” with help from the national organization, other clubs in Virginia, the Warrenton-based PATH Foundation, community volunteers and the building’s original owners. VKM Holdings LLC of Warrenton early last year agreed to take back the building and lease it to the club for $3,200 a month.

The club also raised dues to $100 a month, with scholarships available to families that can’t afford that.

With a focus on helping members prepare for the workforce, as well as the responsibilities of citizenship, the club “is here to stay,” said Ms. Bell, 54.

For her work at the club and other community involvement, the Fauquier Chamber of Commerce last month named Ms. Bell its “Business Person of the Year.”

Ms. Bell joked: “My middle name, I hear, is ‘spoon,’ because I stir the pot. It’s all well intentioned.”

Indeed, she speaks her mind. In 2014, she testified at a school board hearing about an effort to ban a controversial novel, “Two Boys Kissing,” from the Fauquier High library.

Describing herself as “a conservative,” Ms. Bell said she didn’t want to ban the novel, but parents should have the opportunity to determine what books would be appropriate for their children and that warning labels would help. The book remained at FHS.

A role model, her paternal grandmother “would roll over in her grave if they ever talked about censorship,” Ms. Bell said. But, they engaged in deep discussion and “together we read everything . . . . I spent six weeks with her every summer. She was thoughtful, pragmatic, an amazing thinker.

“Not every kid has that.”

So, even if you disagree with her, Ms. Bell wants to understand your position. And, she wants you to understand hers.

“Curiosity” remains fundamental, she said. “No one person has all the answers.”

In the course of her work, Ms. Bell spends a great deal of time on strategy and planning for the Boys & Girls Club of Fauquier, which will have an operating budget of $620,000 next year — up $40,000 from 2019. The organization has four full-time employees and 10 part-timers during the school year. That number doubles in the summer.

The club, which hosts about 100 of its more than 300 members on an average day, has developed a range of activities, including the relatively new “Girls Who Code” program that won national attention alongside clubs from Atlanta and Washington, D.C.

Ms. Bell often talks about “the capacity for greatness in people.”

She sees that in the club’s members, many from low-income families and some from more affluent households that face other challenges, including parents with long commutes.

Among 18 Boys & Girls Clubs in Virginia, Fauquier’s serves the “most affluent” community, but it also has “some of the highest needs,” Ms. Bell said.

“Now, there’s a greater understanding and belief in what we do,” she added. “That’s something we share every day.”

• Age

• Home

• Work and experience
Chief executive officer, Boys & Girls Club of Fauquier, April 2014 to present; business development officer, Dominion Construction Group, Warrenton, 2013-14; business development/administration, Dominion Septic Inc., Goldvein, 2011-13; head of school, Midland Christian Academy, 2002-10; director of residences, Foxcroft School, Middleburg, 1999-2001.

• Why do you do the job?
For me, its about progress . . . seeing the kids evolve from Point A to Point B, seeing the organization evolve.

• Family
Husband Tony, two cats and two horses.

• Education
Bachelor’s degree, music (opera) and English, Angelo State University, San Angelo, Texas, 1988; San Angelo Central High School, 1983.

• Organizations
Co-chairman, Fauquier Chamber of Commerce Economic Development/Legislative Committee; chairman, Boys & Girls Clubs of Virginia Rural Club Task Force; former president, Southern Fauquier Business Owners Association; Balanced Growth Alliance.

• How long have you lived in Fauquier?
Eight years, since September 2011.

• Why do you live here?
I really think Fauquier could set the standard for how communities evolve. I really appreciate the diversity of its citizens.

• How do you describe this county?
We’ve been such a divided county, North and South. But, we’re all one county. We all value the quality of life here. That’s what people want.

• What would you change about Fauquier?
People make more of our differences, but it could be about how that translates into solutions.

• What do you do for fun?
I like to ride (horses). I like to hike. I like to sing. I like to be outdoors.

• What’s your favorite place in Fauquier?
I think coming up Route 17 and you suddenly can see the mountains (from the Morrisville area). That’s one of my favorite views. I also really like the feel of historic downtown Warrenton.

• What will Fauquier be like in 10 years?
I think there are great opportunities. I’m seeing it in Warrenton because of the really intentional way of looking at healthy collaboration and how that translates into zoning and development. I appreciate that we’ll see a more robust economy. Remington also has great potential . . . .

Give people places to go and things to do. I’d love to see a performing arts center (in Warrenton).

• Favorite TV show?

• Favorite book?
“The Shack” by William P. Young

• Favorite vacation spot?
My family’s cabin in the Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York, near Watkins Glen.

• Favorite food?
I love food . . . new Mexican and Italian.

• What is the best advice you have ever received? From whom?
Toni Lynn Chinoy, an executive coach. She helped me when I was having difficulty reaching consensus with someone. She said, always be curious. Add curiosity to every conversation. When you cease to be curious, you are righteous.

• Who’s your hero and why?
Thomas Jefferson. He was so methodical. He understood they had to develop a public education system first . . . . He was fallible but such strategic thinker.

• What would you do if you won $5 million in the lottery?
I would build myself a healthy retirement and I would build a Boys & Girls Club building, with a succession plan for training and development.
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