When it comes to kindness, Ben’s Bells Project is proving to be one of the best in the “business.” What started as a form of healing for one family has now grown into a sustainable non-profit organization that has truly embraced ‘think globally, act locally’ by affecting change in the Tucson community and beyond.
What is Ben’s Bells Project?
After the tragically sudden death in March 2002 of Ben Maré Packard, the almost-three-year old son of Jeannette Maré and Dean Packard, the family was continually touched by the outpouring of support and kindness from family, friends, and strangers alike. As they began to cope with such tremendous loss, they found healing in an unlikely place – designing and creating Ben’s Bells with their family and friends in a makeshift studio in their garage. Wanting to pass on the kindness they had received, hundreds of Ben’s Bells were hung around Tucson on the first anniversary of Ben’s death with a simple message to take the bell home and pass on the kindness.
Ben’s Bells, almost instantly recognizable to most Tucsonans, are bells that are adorned with brightly colored ceramic beads and tiles. Most importantly, Ben’s Bells cannot be bought – one must be lucky enough to find a bell or be “Belled”.The bells continue to be hung regularly throughout the year at random in public spaces throughout Tucson, as well as five other communities across the nation. All begging to be found and the message of kindness passed on. They are also bestowed weekly to a special “Bellee” who has been nominated for their commitment to spreading kindness in their communities.
What does Ben’s Bells Project do?
Today, over 36,000 bells have been distributed and the ripple effect of this movement of kindness has spread far and wide, including the development of kindness education programs, with kits that are available at no cost to schools. Currently, 235 schools and nearly 128,000 students are participating in Kind Kids and Kind Campus programs, which serve to educate and inspire students, faculty and staff to recognize the importance of kindness and empowers them to embrace a culture of kindness in all they do. Ben’s Bells also partnered with the University of Arizona for the Be Kind. Step Up program, which recognizes ordinary acts of kindness with numbered bracelets so that they can be passed on and stories of kindness shared among people.
The success and growth of Ben’s Bells has been unexpected, even for Ben’s mom and BB founder, Jeannette, who has been pleasantly surprised and inspired by the continued expansion. “We just allowed it to grow organically. We thrived on the energy of the people themselves who found motivation and hope in what we were doing and are really the ones that have propelled us forward.” Jeannette went on to say, “Our board is committed to growing responsibly because we want to keep the intentions of the project intact.”
Ben’s Bells is also working to create its international headquarters in Tucson and have a model for opening affiliate chapters nationwide and internationally. Celebrating its first anniversary on February 11th, Ben’s Bells Newtown was the very first affiliate chapter, as well as the first studio outside of Arizona. Having been founded out of tragedy and acting as a force for healing in Tucson after the 2011 shootings at the constituent event of Rep. Gabby Giffords, Ben’s Bells knows a thing or two about the healing power of kindness. “The response here in Tucson to the Newtown tragedy was particularly intense due to what our community experienced in 2011,” said Jeannette. “Sharing Ben’s Bells with another community that was hurting so deeply was also serving some need we all had here.” With 1,000 bells in tow, the Ben’s Bells team went to Newtown, trained local volunteers to make their own bells, and shared hope and kindness with a community that desperately needed it.
For Ben’s Bells, every last thing comes back to community, connection, and relationships. With that, the organization is always mindful of what the community of Tucson and the state of Arizona has done for them, Ben’s Bells does all it can to work with and support locally owned businesses. From buying office supplies locally to developing strong community partners, Ben’s Bells is committed to community. “The Be Kind message is universal so there are so many wonderful and meaningful ways we work with the local community and we’ve had the pleasure of some interesting and cool partnerships,” said Jeannette. One such example is the Bené Bell pizza at Falora in Tucson, which is a permanent menu item with proceeds for each pizza sold donated to the organization.
So what’s next for Ben’s Bells? The unique success of this social movement has caught the attention of academics at the University of Arizona. Through a strong partnership with UA, participation in Ben’s Bells’ kindness education programs is being tracked and the impact of kindness measured as a part of research being conducted around the science of kindness. “The evidence behind how good sharing and receiving kindness is for you is undeniable now,” explained Jeannette. “We’re really starting to make headway in breaking the idea that kindness is a weakness.” Jeannette also believes this study and the role Ben’s Bells is playing in the research adds legitimacy behind the science to the kindness programming. “I see us becoming a really important part of the research in the science of kindness field,” Jeannette said when asked what she is most excited about for the future of Ben’s Bells. “The purpose of academic work and study done at that level is to affect change in people’s lives and I believe we’re on the brink of making a lasting impact and creating great change.”
We love seeing the local impact of Arizona’s non-profits! The ever-growing success of Ben’s Bells Project is an excellent example of the influence that strong local communities can have on a national and even international level. Ben’s Bells is putting Arizona on the map for kindness…now that’s one Arizonan export we don’t mind being spread far and wide!
Here are a few ways you can be a part of the kindness movement:
- Visit the Ben’s Bells website to learn more
- LIKE them on Facebook for all the latest updates, which also serve as great daily reminders of kindness in action
- Check out the online store – while the bells themselves are never sold, other Ben’s Bells merchandise is available for purchase and all proceeds support the overall project and various programs.
- Ben’s Bells is also appreciative of donations
Live in or visiting the Tucson area?
- You can always stop by the studios and help out!
- “Shop KIND” – grand opening of new storefront | Saturday, March 29th from 10am-5pm at 40 W. Broadway (Sneak Peek Happy Hour – Friday, March 28th from 5-7pm)
- "Celebration of Kindness" - Saturday, April 12th from 6-10 at 40 W. Broadway. More info can be found at at bensbells.org soon!