Bells spread kindness in Tucson community

By Anthony D. Ávila
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, September 30, 2005

Student volunteers of Ben's Bells, a local nonprofit organization created to spread kindness to others, are forming a UA club so more students can take part in its mission.

Patrick Bradley, the president of Ben's Bells on campus, said he decided to start the club because he wants to make it more visible for students who are insulated from its impact.

"When I tell people (on campus), they don't know about it," said Bradley, an architecture junior. "And I can't figure out why."

Jeannette Maré-Packard, a deaf studies adjunct instructor, created Ben's Bells in 2003 in memoriam of her son Ben, who died of croup when he was almost 3 years old, Maré-Packard said.

After the colorful clay bells are made by hand, organizers and volunteers place them in trees and other niches around the city to be picked up by people who find them, Maré-Packard said.

The clay bells are being distributed next month, although they are usually sent out in September and then again in March near the anniversary of Ben's death, Maré-Packard said.

She hopes those who find them will experience the same kindness that helped her family cope with the pain of losing their son, Maré-Packard said.

Bradley said the mission of the club is to bring bell-making meetings to other campus clubs and organizations so they are not left out.

"We want to get UA students involved in the project and bring its message to campus," Bradley said.

Members will participate in social get-togethers where they will hang out at a restaurant or paint clay pieces in the Ben's Bells studio, Bradley said.

Sara Button, a classics and creative writing freshman and club vice president, said the club is important to her because she remembers Ben and has a four-year history with Maré-Packard.

"You hear about a lot of the awful things in the world, and it gives you a glimpse of something good people are doing for each other," Button said.

The organization has undergone changes recently, and Maré-Packard said she hopes its influence continues to grow.

Ben's Bells, which was previously part of Tu Nidito, officially became an independent nonprofit group in June, allowing more flexibility to realize its specific mission, she said.

Another addition began two weeks ago after Maré-Packard searched for a way to recognize people individually who may not find a bell.

"We wanted a more frequent way to keep the virtue of kindness in people's heads," she said. "And we noticed people in the community who were extremely kind, and we wanted a way to be able to honor that."

Maré-Packard said she announces the recipients of "Ben's Bellings," who are nominated through 92.9 KWMT, on the radio station each Friday morning and explains why they deserved to be acknowledged for their kindness.

Students and anyone else have the chance to paint a bell during "Almost Free Fridays," an event with live music, art and activities put on by the Marshall Foundation from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Friday along East University Boulevard.

Ben's Bells will have about 10 tables there and anyone is welcome, Maré-Packard said. Ben's Bells is also selling T-shirts and baseball caps, one of which was worn by musician Jason Mraz during his concert last week in Centennial Hall.

Students were finishing the group of 1,000 bells Wednesday that are ready to be launched; 900 in Tucson and 100 in Portland, Ore., where Maré-Packard said she has family.

"They will go out very, very soon," Maré-Packard said with a wink.