Ben's Bells finding new home in Newtown
Not even a blizzard could keep the founder of Ben's Bells from warming the hearts of Newtown, Conn., residents.
Despite severe weather warnings in New England, Jeannette Maré was able to fly out of Tucson on Sunday afternoon to make her second trip to Connecticut, where she is helping Newtown develop their own Ben's Bells chapter.
Maré began the Ben's Bells Project after the unexpected death of her son, Ben, 11 years ago. The goal of the nonprofit is to spread kindness. The organization hosts bell-making workshops and also offers free Kindness Programs for schools and businesses.
Maré made her first trip to Connecticut with five other members of the Ben's Bells team on Jan. 6, about one month after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting that resulted in the death of 28 people, including 20 children.
"When we got there, the media had just left and the town was quieting down," said studio manager Krista Hansen. "We were hesitant about being there."
The event was not advertised, Hansen said. Only word-of-mouth and Facebook posts were used to spread the news of their arrival.
Despite initial hesitation, the Ben's Bells team garnered support from more than 100 Newtown volunteers. On Jan. 8, the second anniversary of the Tucson shooting that killed six and wounded 13 others, they hung more than 1,000 bells throughout the community.
"A lot of people found bells that day so there is already a buzz in the city about them," Maré said.
Ben's Bells could only afford to send Maré on the second trip. She said that she will be relying on the "Newtown crew."
Computer programmer Jennifer Avari is the leader of the effort to build a permanent home for Ben's Bells in Newtown. She has 500 pounds of clay in her basement.
Avari was chosen to be the head of the organization because of her enthusiasm and leadership skills, Maré said.
"I'm excited about the opportunity but it will be kind of a stretch for me," Avari said. "I'm more of a computer geek."
Avari met Maré for the first time last spring while attending a community service event in Phoenix. Avari painted bells at the event as a guest of her sister-in law.
"That's when I first learned about Ben's Bells and their Kind Kids program," Avari said. "I thought it would fit really well into my daughter's school."
Maré will be making three elementary school presentations during her visit this week. She will also be making a presentation at Sandy Hook Arts Center for Kids (S.H.A.C.K.) As part of the presentation, Maré will tell the story of how Ben's Bells came about.
The first of four public events was to be held on Tuesday at the Healing Newtown Arts Center. One of the open studio times will be specifically for teenagers, Maré said.
The Newtown chapter does not yet have a permanent location, however. The organization will be based out of several different locations in the community. The program will also be available in art classes as various elementary schools, Maré said.
"Eventually, if it grows like it did in Tucson, we will have a physical studio there," Maré said. "But that's not the first step."
Ben's Bells has already spread to eight other states in the United States; Colorado, Idaho, Illinois, Florida, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oregon, and Maryland. None of them have permanent studios yet, but they are still producing bells, Maré said.