Venture around a city corner or through a park in the Arizona Valley and you might hear something that sounds vaguely like a windchime. Take a peek around the bend or steer further into the park, and you might stumble upon a colorful bell made up of several different pieces with a tag attached. If you lean in closer, you might read what the bell says, “You have found a Ben’s Bell. Take it home, hang it, and remember to spread kindness throughout our world!”
Every month, the Phoenix studio of Ben’s Bells, managed by Christy Brown, hangs about 100-150 bells in the community for others to discover. Before the bells are hung, however, about 10 sets of hands come together to craft all of the pieces that the bells are made up of. Small groups and individuals can come together, drop into the studio, and paint, sculpt, or assemble intricate pieces of bells.
At first glance, the bells decorated with flowers, spheres, and other vastly colorful shapes seem like a fun way to spread art, especially around the Roosevelt Row Art District in Downtown Phoenix; however, these bells aren’t simply used to adorn a tree or two in the area, but instead their purpose is to share a special message of recognizing kindness in one’s community.
Christy noted, “Personally, I think what we talk about a lot with Ben’s Bells is the idea of wanting people to be more aware of kindness — how people see it in their lives and recognize it. It’s all about being aware of those micro-moments between people; we talk about building connections. A simple smile when you pass someone on the street could make a big difference in their life.”
Ben’s Bells’ inception came about after the passing of founder Jeannette Maré’s young son, Ben. Ben’s death was sudden and unexpected and wrecked havoc as a parent’s worst nightmare came to life. As a method to cope with their grief, Ben’s family began to craft the bells as a unique therapeutic way to heal. They crafted hundreds of bells as a way to give back to the Tucson community, which had done so much for them after their son’s passing.
On the first anniversary of Ben’s death, they hung about 400 bells all throughout Tucson to give back to the community that had been so kind to them and further encourage the kindness that those around them had shown throughout the year. The intention was that that would be the end of it, but as they started hearing stories from people who had found the bells, they learned of other families that needed more kindness.
Over the years, Ben’s Bells has grown into a phenomenon in the Valley and has even spread as far as Connecticut after the Sandy Hook tragedy took place. With a total of four studios, Ben’s Bells continues to grow and impact the Valley. If you look around any Arizonan community, chances are, you’ll find someone with a bell hanging somewhere in their household or yard.
Something uniquely beautiful about the bells is that they cannot be bought, but only found, or gifted by the organization. Community members can nominate a “bellee”— who has made a kind difference in their lives or community — to receive one of the bells. A committee evaluates each nomination before selecting a monthly bellee to receive their bell and find out why they were nominated.
Many members of the community and people around the country have expressed curiosity about how they can get involved in the project. Throughout the week, any small group or individual can come to the studio and drop in, stay as long as they would like and help build, assemble, paint, or sculpt pieces of bells. It’s for all ages and artistic abilities and gives people the opportunity to be part of the bell’s creation and legacy.
For the youngsters and the young-at-heart of the community, Ben’s Bells offers its Kind Campus Program. The Kind Campus Program is offered as a free source of curriculum to teachers and serves as a segway to sculpt students in grades K-12 into kind difference-makers.
“It’s so important to get kids thinking about kindness at such a young age and it makes such a big impact in our communities and our schools,” Christy said. “It makes kindness a priority.”
Spreading Ben’s legacy and the organization’s message is a year-round endeavor that impacts hundreds of lives every year. Not only are the bells beautiful, but they serve as an omnipresent physical reminder to each recipient and finder.
If you are moved by the project, learn how you can get involved by visiting bensbells.org. Taking the time to learn about kindness and integrate it into our everyday lives is necessary for today’s society, and Ben’s Bells strives to and succeeds in providing messages of kindness in people’s everyday lives.