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News
Ben's bells ring across Tucson


Photo
MELISSA HALTERMAN/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Jeannette Mare-Packard, an adjunct instructor for special education and rehabilitation, makes bells in honor of her son Ben, who died of croup, a respiratory disease. Volunteers hung more than 500 bells throughout Tucson one week ago, the two-year anniversary of Ben's death.
By Natasha Bhuyan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, April 5, 2004
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Outside classroom and office walls, a professor's life rarely concerns her students.

But for those who know Jeannette Mare-Packard in the classroom, her off-campus life is what makes her such a valuable educator.

Two years ago, Mare-Packard, an adjunct instructor for special education and rehabilitation, lost her 3-year-old son, Ben, to croup, a respiratory disease.

Even after she returned to work and her daily routine, Mare-Packard said she still "wanted to die." But as she walked around campus, no one around her recognized her anguish.

"I had a profound realization of how invisible this pain is," Mare-Packard said.

Mare-Packard added that people who knew she was suffering were unsure how to act around her.

But during the grieving process, Mare-Packard said the smallest gestures, such as a student holding open a door or a stranger flashing her a smile, brightened her day.

Through her appreciation of these "basic, life-saving acts of kindness," Mare-Packard realized the importance of benevolence.

"We always assume that others are OK," Mare-Packard said. "But, looking outside myself, I began to wonder, 'What kind of pain are people carrying around?'"

To encourage small gestures of kindness in the community, Mare-Packard came up with the idea of Ben's Bells.

Her first batch of 400 bells was created to encourage acts of kindness.

The bells are decorated and hung in public places throughout the community, such as parks or bus stations.

Each bell comes with a tag that reads, "You have found a Ben's Bell," followed by a unique quote about compassion. The tag also encourages the recipient to keep the bell and pass on an act of kindness.

Approximately 20 volunteers from schools, businesses and Tu Nidito, a grief crisis center, contribute to the design of one bell.

Volunteers for the project hung more than 500 vivid bells throughout Tucson one week ago, the two-year anniversary of Ben's death.

Cameo McNeil, a special education and rehabilitation senior, said she experienced Mare-Packard's "wisdom, patience and love" in November when her fiance suddenly passed away.

"Jeannette was right there by my side from the moment I found out on the phone, through the horrible shock and realization of what happened, all the way through the grief process that still goes on today," McNeil said. "I can barely remember any of the events that unfolded that day, except the reassuring feeling of Jeannette's hand on my knee for hours."

Leiana Payawal, an elementary education junior, said Ben's Bells is a way to let the community know there are always people out there who care.

"Ben's Bells are made with nothing but love," Payawal said.

Since the project's inception, more than 2,000 bells have been distributed throughout the Tucson community, and Mare-Packard said the response has been overwhelming.

"People are touched by it for their own reasons," Mare-Packard said.

Marie Stewart, an adjunct instructor of special education and rehabilitation, said Mare-Packard has an "innate" ability to capture students in the classroom and accommodates different learning styles.

"She has touched the lives of many," said Sarah Ascher, UA alumna and Mare-Packard's friend. "(She encourages) us to re-evaluate how we support each other, view the grieving process and practice random acts of kindness."

Mare-Packard hopes the bells will leave a lasting impression on Tucsonans.

"Ben is loving it," she said.



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