Ben's Bells, Reminder To Spread Kindness, Opens Phoenix Studio

By Annika Cline
Published: Friday, September 18, 2015 - 3:39pm
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(Photo by Annika Cline - KJZZ)
Ben's Bells recently opened a studio in Phoenix.

They were there after the 2011 shooting at a supermarket in Tucson that left former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords critically injured. And they were there after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.

There is a story behind the small bells hung in the face of hardship, and why now they’re also chiming in Phoenix.

You might hear one while walking outside - a simple metal bell tied to a ceramic flower. And at the top, a note.

The note reads, "You have found a Ben’s Bell. Take it home, hang it, and remember to spread kindness throughout the world."

Suzanne Cohen is a volunteer at the new Ben’s Bells location in downtown Phoenix. But the nonprofit has roots in Tucson. It was founded in 2003 by Jeannette Mare, after her 2-year-old son, Ben, died unexpectedly.

"That threw my family into this ... just incredible grief process that I don’t think anyone can be prepared for," Mare said.

It was during this process that Mare began to make the bells. It started as a relaxing activity to do with friends. But soon, a few bells turned into dozens. By the first anniversary of Ben’s death, it was hundreds. Mare and others hung the bells around Tucson in Ben’s memory.

"Honestly, at that time we had no idea that it would turn into a thing," Mare said.

The bells became something of a local phenomenon. Other people discovered them and shared their stories. Liz Tomko is an art therapist and said sometimes art can help when speaking about something is too hard.

"One is so cognitively based and the other one is so core based. So I think people can heal faster using the arts because of that. They’re not using their head as much as they’re using their heart," Tomko said.

Mare recruited volunteers, and they kept hanging bells. Hundreds were in the Safeway parking lot where Giffords was shot. Another thousand were in Newtown after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.

"It just had this sort of force, and we just went with it and went with it and now it’s 13 years later and 47,000 Ben’s Bells have been distributed," Mare said.

And four studios have opened, the latest in Phoenix.

On a recent First Friday, the studio was filled with volunteers and people who stopped in to find out more about Ben’s Bells. Studio manager Christy Brown said anyone can help make a bell.

"We say about 10 different people, by the time a bell goes out into the community, have had their hands on it. So it’s a really cool symbol of coming together," Brown said.

"In this busy city, everybody is so impersonal, we pass people on the street, very seldom does anybody say hello," Cohen said. "We need to remember we’re all in the same boat and to be kind to each other."

The bells made here will also be hung around Phoenix, with a big distribution tonight during the studio’s grand opening. This time, not to mark a tragedy, but to commemorate a new beginning.

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