Published in the 2014-2015 Tucson GuestBook.
While navigating Tucson, it doesn’t take long to spot the flower-shaped “Be Kind” bumper stickers on cars and in business windows—one might even be so lucky as to discover a handcrafted clay bell while walking toward a nearby destination. The stickers and bells are part of a movement, an organization formed with a mission to shower kindness on others.
The nonprofit, Ben’s Bells, was founded by Tucson resident Jeannette Maré, as a mother’s attempt to grapple with overwhelming grief. After Maré’s three-year-old son passed unexpectedly from what was thought to be a common cold in 2002, Maré began working with clay as a therapeutic way of coping. With friends by her side in her backyard studio, dozens and dozens of Ben’s Bells were lovingly assembled and distributed around the city, passing along to others the overwhelming kindness and generosity that was helping Maré and her family get through their tragedy.
“It was a remarkable and intense experience; we quickly realized we had to keep going,” says Maré of that dark, yet inspirationally charged time. “We were surrounded by people who offered kindness after kindness. It didn’t take away the sadness, but it did reduce the suffering …. Those little connections, like holding open a door, saying ‘good morning’ or smiling were like oxygen.”
More than a decade later, the astonishing grass-roots growth of Ben’s Bells and its mission to inspire intentional kindness and heal hearts has galvanized a community while sparking a nationwide movement. In addition to its two local studios, a third studio was opened in Newtown, Conn., following the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy.
Open studio hours offer the opportunity for anyone who wishes to work with clay, decorate the beads or craft a bell, which are then hung at random around the city for others to find. Ben’s Bells has distributed more than 40,000 bells around Tucson.
The hiding of the bells is a task reserved for the most devoted volunteers. A volunteer of five years, Mary Roberts says she’s yet to repeat a location. “I consider it a very great honor,” Roberts says. “You don’t find a bell; a bell finds you. In that way, it’s almost mystical.”
“Intentional kindness is the ultimate in practicality,” says Maré, who finds it a privilege to play a part in other people’s survival, while celebrating her late son’s life and shining a light on kindness. She and many others have found long-lasting rewards in the simple act of making and sharing bells sculpted from clay—“Small connections save the world,” she says.