Since January, when the Tucson, Arizona-based Ben’s Bells kindness program first came to Newtown, the ceramic bead and bell creations have brought joy to many who have discovered the randomly distributed works of art. Workshops have taken place at various locations in the town since then, allowing residents to become part of the creation process, making beads, glazing, stringing, and hanging Ben’s Bells. The Ben’s Bells workshops have been so popular, said volunteer organizer Jennifer Avari, that the 100-person sessions, quickly filled up every time.
“I think the smallest group we have hosted, so far,” said volunteer Jodie Adolfson, “is around 50 people.”
But beginning Saturday, July 13, residents will have the chance to take part in Ben’s Bells workshops on a regular basis.
“We are now able to spread kindness through bell making in our very own Newtown studio,” said Ms Avari. “Landmark Homes, Inc, of Fairfield, has donated space [in the rear of] 17 Church Hill Road, and William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty, who shares the building, has donated the utility costs, so we are proud to state that all donations made toward Ben’s Bells Newtown will continue to be used to provide materials for bell making and to fund kindness education programs in area schools,” she said.
Ms Avari and Ms Adolfson will join with Beth Krueger as team leaders for the Ben’s Bells Newtown studio.
There are eight chapters of Ben’s Bells in the nation, but Ben’s Bells Newtown is the only studio outside of Tucson, where the project was begun in 2003 by Jeannette Maré, as a means of commemorating her young son, who died of croup.
Volunteers have been working to prepare the space, where the community will be invited to participate in making Ben’s Bells components and “Kindness Coins,” also a project of Ben’s Bells. The colorful Kindness Coins are used in Kind Kids Programs at schools, and traded as rewards for acts of kindness.
All supplies and equipment in the Ben’s Bells Newtown studio come from community donations, Ms Avari said, and members of the Newtown High School Honor Society donated time and talent, painting an enormous Be Kind flower on one wall of the studio work room.
HealingNewtown will loan a number of works of art, donated to the town after 12/14 and currently in storage, to decorate the lobby of the new studio.
A large room will accommodate up to 30 people at a time, seated at one of five tables. Participants can choose to work with clay, creating original beads or making Kindness Coins, or glazing already fired beads and coins. Area volunteers will fire the pieces off-site, as the studio will not house a kiln.
Ms Maré and her staff have been highly supportive of making the Newtown studio a reality, said Ms Avari. “Jeannette felt very comfortable with us taking her story and spreading it. There is a real desire for it here. People who have taken part in our workshops are passionate about it, and wanting to spread kindness. There is a lot of support,” she said.
Regular studio hours will begin with the grand opening, Saturday, July 13, from noon to 4 pm, and continue every Saturday from noon to 4 pm and Wednesdays, from 6 to 9 pm. Registration is not needed. All spaces are available on a first come, first served basis, and participants are welcome to stay for as little or long a time as desired.
Private groups can arrange for after hours events, as well, and those wishing to conduct a bell-making event outside of the studio can pick up “To Go” boxes, prepared by volunteers.
There is no charge for taking part at the Ben’s Bells Newtown studio, but because the group does rely on donations to purchase supplies, a donation of $5 per session is encouraged. The donations will also support kindness programs in schools, Kind Kids, and Kind Campuses programs.
According to Ms Avari, the Ben’s Bells Newtown chapter was organized in February, and since then has hosted 17 public sessions, with over 1,200 participants. More than 1,000 Ben’s Bells were hung in Newtown in January, and in June, volunteers distributed another 600 in town. The Newtown chapter hung 150 Ben’s Bells in Boston, following the Boston Marathon tragedy in April.
“Our team has worked with nine area schools to either incorporate Ben’s Bells into the art curriculum, or conduct bell making sessions, specifically for those schools,” said Ms Avari.
Participants will be invited to glaze any of the hundreds of Kindness Coins that volunteers have been busy crafting and firing for the July 13 grand opening, she said, as the group hopes to provide at least 4,000 of the coins to participating schools, come September.
The Ben’s Bells created at studio workshops will be hung all over the state. The bells, which finders can take home, are meant as expressions of kindness, Ms Avari said, and are not distributed just in times of tragedy or disaster.
“We’re very excited about opening the studio,” Ms Avari said. “Our studio will be here as long as the community supports it, and I hope that is for years.”
Ben’s Bells Newtown is located in the rear of 17 Church Hill Road. The studio is open every Saturday, noon to 4 pm, and each Wednesday, 6 to 9 pm. All ages are welcome. There is no fee, but a $5 donation is encouraged.