Student Life

Family Ties

February 20, 2015

While college is a time for students to outgrow adolescence by gaining independence, taking on new responsibilities, and learning important life skills, they never outgrow the need for their families. Liberty University maintains strong connections with parents and other family members by offering resources, hosting special events, and providing everyday support to ensure that families can remain actively involved in their child’s life during this important time.

Attend the annual Fall Family Weekend, Commencement, or a Flames sporting event, and you will see Liberty parents going above and beyond in displaying their pride for the university. They are an integral part of the Liberty family.

Read about the experiences of Liberty parents in the following stories:

Karen Kingsbury: ‘If Heaven has a university, it would be Liberty.’

Most people know Karen Kingsbury as a bestselling author of Christian fiction. But three Liberty students and a graduate call her “Mom.” She’s also the aunt of a current student.

In a recent interview with the Liberty Journal, Kingsbury said that Liberty University stood out to her family when it came time to make college decisions.

“The standards of excellence in faith, in academics, and in career goals make Liberty stand alone. Liberty University is the only school I know that operates entirely by faith, and not in fear. The administration, academic staff, and student leaders take seriously the mission of making Champions for Christ — and that commitment shows in every area of life at Liberty,” she said. “I’ve always believed if Heaven has a university, it would be Liberty.”

Kingsbury, who addressed the student body at Convocation last year, said she looks forward to her trips to campus to visit her children and to see firsthand how the university has come alongside her and her husband in continuing to provide the personal care and spiritual encouragement their children had at home.

“Our boys attend classes with students who really want to be at Liberty, young men and women who care about the messages at Convocation and truly desire to be excellent for Christ,” she said.

Kingsbury said her children have a solid support system in their residence halls, provided by Liberty’s Student Leadership team, as well as a unique brother-sister dorm program.

“The accountability system within the dorms at Liberty keeps our boys close and connected. They are able to share their concerns and know that people will be praying for them and sincerely caring about how they’re doing,” Kingsbury said. “Most colleges have a Greek system or a ‘social club’ system where students must work hard to be accepted, and very often they can be cut or excluded. A student is always included at Liberty University.”

The Kingsbury family

(Back Row, Left to Right): Austin, Karen, Donald (Front Row, Left to Right): Sean, Tyler, Josh, Kelsey, Kyle, EJ

Kingsbury said it is exciting to be a part of the world’s largest Christian university.

“We feel a sense of pride when we tell our friends that our boys are at Liberty University,” she said. “We feel like we belong to a larger family, the family of Liberty University worldwide. It’s a great feeling.”

Kingsbury will have even more opportunities to be involved at Liberty as the university announced last month that she will be a visiting professor for the residential and online programs. She will offer students the secrets to her storytelling and to selling more than 25 million copies of her books.

“I believe in Liberty University and in the students who attend this great school,” Kingsbury said in a news release. “I am honored to officially be part of the great things God is doing at Liberty.”

Kingsbury will contribute to the university’s English and creative writing programs and provide writing curriculum exclusively to Liberty University. This will include teaching about story development, marketing, and publishing through both written pieces and video instruction.

In addition, she will be conducting interviews with Liberty students for her weekday radio show, “The Karen Kingsbury Show.” The show will be heard on Liberty’s newly reformatted radio station, The Journey FM, throughout Virginia and North Carolina, as well as nationally on Salem Radio and

As a public speaker who reaches more than 100,000 women annually through various national events, Kingsbury will also be speaking on campus this year. She will visit on Feb. 23-25, and again on April 7-10, during College for a Weekend (CFAW). Liberty is also working with Kingsbury for the Karen Kingsbury Liberty University Scholarship contest, which will award four students each $20,000 toward tuition. More information can be found on her website,

“We are thrilled to announce this partnership with Karen Kingsbury,” Liberty University President Jerry Falwell said in the release. “Karen is one of the most important voices in Christian publishing and literature today. We are excited about all she has to offer our students and our Liberty community.”

Jim Kelly: ‘It felt like we were home.’

All any parent can hope for their college student is to know that their child is in good hands — in a safe environment where they can grow and thrive throughout their education. Liberty University parents Jim and Jill Kelly found that and much more for their daughter, Erin, a junior at Liberty: they found a community, a place of support and encouragement during life’s ups and downs.

“God chose Liberty for Erin,” said Jill Kelly, wife of NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly. “We were just overwhelmed when we came here for College For A Weekend when she was in high school. In fact, one of the nights that we were here we had to write down everything God had showed us because it was so overwhelming; we were blown away.”

The Kellys and their children (Erin and Camryn, who is in high school) live in Buffalo, N.Y., where Jim played in the National Football League, leading the Bills to four straight Super Bowl appearances and becoming one of the league’s most prolific passers. The family is tight-knit, having overcome much adversity together over the years — including Jim’s recent battle with cancer — so sending Erin all the way to Virginia for college was a huge step.

“I felt at CFAW that I could leave her here and go home and be OK about it. As a mom, that is big,” Jill Kelly said. “I felt like we were home. That is a God thing because we were not actually ‘home,’ but being here you have that feeling; you are with who you are supposed to be with.”

“When I made my first visit here, I loved it; I fell in love with Liberty,” Jim Kelly added. “Even though we gave Erin the right to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ — she made the final decision — when she told me that she loved it, I knew it was the right place.”

The Kellys had the opportunity to share their story during Convocation on Oct. 24, part of Fall Family Weekend. It was the first time the three family members had all shared a stage together, and the first public appearance by Jim Kelly since overcoming his bout with cancer. (Visit to read more about the Kellys’ story.)

Parents of the Year recognized for strength to overcome

Linda, Hayley, and James Bell

Linda, Hayley, and James Bell

James and Linda Bell of Greenwich, R.I., parents of sophomore Hayley Bell, were honored as Liberty University’s Outstanding Parents of the Year during Fall Family Weekend last October.

Hayley nominated her parents by participating in an essay contest sponsored by Liberty’s Parent and Family Connections Office.

“My dad is my biggest inspiration in my life as a student, an athlete, and a servant of God,” Hayley wrote.

She explained that her father was told he would never walk again after shattering his leg when he fell off of a two-story ladder. However, as his family rallied around him, James Bell showed strength and determination in his recovery. He regained his ability to walk and even runs 5K races with his daughter.

“When all odds were against him,” Hayley said, “God prevailed and my dad pushed through and continued to provide for his family while serving the Lord to the best of his ability. That is why my father is different from most fathers; he is a fighter who did the impossible. I can only hope to grow to be half the person that he is today.”

The experience inspired her to major in exercise science with plans of becoming a physical therapist.

“It’s very humbling,” James Bell said. “Oftentimes I don’t feel like an outstanding parent, but it’s good to see that even through my trials Hayley saw things that she could take into her life as positives.”

The Bells have a rich family heritage at Liberty. James and Linda graduated from Liberty in 1984. In addition to Hayley, their daughter Emily graduated from Liberty in 2011 and their son Jordan graduated last May.

The Bells were awarded hotel accommodations for the weekend and a prize package with snacks and Liberty merchandise. Hayley received $100 in Flames Cash and a $75 gift card to Liberty’s Barnes & Noble Bookstore.

“I think these essays are a great way to honor our parents,” said Theresa Dunbar, director of the Parent and Family Connections Office. “So many parents make sacrifices to send their students to Liberty, and it’s nice to hear those stories.”

Parents can visit the Parent and Family Connections Office website and Facebook page for articles, tips, and upcoming events and deadlines.

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