A Claremont drive for kindness

Claremont Get About driver Noureddine Bellili dedicates his time transporting seniors and the disabled to appointments, classes and beyond, while also working a second part-time job for the extra income.

For those of Claremont Senior Service’s Enrichment Center Adult Day program—3 days a week for seniors with mild to moderate dementia—Mr. Bellili somehow finds the time to be an ice cream man and friend as well as a driver during his 12-hour workdays.

Mr. Bellili’s visits over the last 5 years have become an occasion to look forward to for the seniors and volunteers, and not just for the sweet treats Mr. Bellili dishes out on his own dime. The driver has become a source of companionship and friendship for the seniors who might have otherwise gone without. His attention to detail, especially in times of economic hardship, prompted program coordinator Angelika Pittet to submit Mr. Bellini for the COURIER’s search for the city’s “Good Neighbors.”

“He is one of those people in our community that is going the extra mile,” Ms. Pittet said. “He loves our seniors and it comes through in all the little things that he does.”

Ms. Pittet points out Mr. Bellili’s “ice cream socials” with the group as a shining example. On a hot summer day 2 years ago, volunteers began joking around with Mr. Bellili on one of his usual drives, hinting at their desire for some ice cream to beat the summer scorcher. They were shocked when Mr. Bellili immediately took the request to heart, stopping at a local Rite Aid and purchasing 18 cones before dropping the seniors off at their intended destination. Such trips have become a staple, much to the program participants’ delight.

“He goes above and beyond,” said volunteer Nettie O’Brien, emphasizing the importance of providing these seniors, struggling with memory loss and health, with opportunities to improve their quality of life. “Mr. Bellini always provides a little something extra.”

While money may be hard for the driver to come by—working 2 jobs to help sustain not only his life in the states, but to help his family in Algeria—Mr. Bellili finds solace in giving back.

“Many of them are struggling with their health, yet when you see them smile or when they say thank you….you cannot be rewarded more than that,” Mr. Bellili said. “It makes it all worth it.”

Mr. Bellili emphasizes the importance that his culture puts on taking care of seniors. Unable to care for his own parents 7,000 miles away, his work with Get About allows him to nurture that aspect of his upbringing, he says.

Mr. Bellili moved to southern California from Algeria 17 years ago, with $500 dollars in his pocket and the dream of providing for the family he left behind. The transition proved difficult; beyond being oceans away from his loved ones, he struggled to grasp the language and start anew in a country totally unfamiliar to him.

With the help of an acquaintance at his ESL classes in Pomona, Mr. Bellili found employment at Printing Works off Foothill and Garey, where he would first became acquainted with some of the seniors he would transport at Claremont Senior Services years later. Moving into a Pomona neighborhood that shares a border with Claremont, Mr. Bellini invested himself in his new life, throwing himself into his work and getting to know his customers. Unfortunately, after nearly a decade at the printing shop, financial hardships struck. Jobless, Mr. Bellili found himself questioning his search for the American Dream.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Mr. Bellili reflected. “Back home in Algeria, I had a great job as the manager of the post office. Here, the post office wouldn’t even call me back. It was a huge struggle.”

Applying anywhere he could, Mr. Bellili received a call from Dianne Williams of Foothill Transit. Seven years later it remains a life-changing moment for him, providing him with the “freedom” he sought in moving to California.

While hours at Get About have been cut due to economic difficulties and Mr. Bellili’s trips with the Adult Day program are now less frequent, the outings and occasional ice cream socials continue. Without his own family nearby, Mr. Bellili has come to see his clients as an extended family, a sentiment his clients share. And though his work days are long and money hard to come by, Mr. Bellili remains hopeful that his daily acts of kindness will continue to reap the rewards they promise.

“It’s a payback,” he explained of his philosophy. “You take care of others in need and hopefully, someday, someone will do the same for me.”

—Beth Hartnett



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