Spreading Kindness Beyond Newtown

Members of the Ben’s Bells Newtown (BBN) team visited Pequenakonck Elementary School in North Salem, N.Y., recently.

A family session on January 31 had 140 students, teachers, and parents all working together to make beads and/or paint Kindness Coins. The program allowed BBN volunteers to continue their mission of inspiring, educating, and motivating each other “to realize the impact of intentional kindness and to empower individuals to act according to that awareness, thereby changing our world.” It was the first event for the two groups, according to school principal Mary Kathryn Johnson in her February 4 school newsletter.

Jenny Avari, a Ben’s Bells Newtown team member, was happy with the evening.

“North Salem has embraced the Kind Kids program, the free program offered by Ben’s Bells,” Ms Avari told The Newtown Bee. “There were also a few kids in the crowd that had found bells in North Salem. We were so happy to work with Mary Johnson, Michele Grossman, and other staff members at PQ.

“Between the staff who were so welcoming and the kids who were so excited to participate, it was a great night!” she added.

Kind Kids is an outreach program to K–8 schools that serves to educate and inspire children to recognize the importance of kindness and empowers them to create a culture of kindness in their school and beyond. The program is provided by Ben’s Bells Project at no cost to schools that decide to participate.

Meanwhile, Ben’s Bells is celebrating its first anniversary in Newtown.

Jeanette Maté, the founder of Ben’s Bells, based in Tucson, Ariz., and a few volunteers, visited Newtown last year in early January. They were joined by a few Newtown residents to hang the first Ben’s Bells in Newtown on January 8. More than 1,000 bells were hung in public places that day.

Ms Avari, a Middle Gate School PTA member, had contacted Ben’s Bells in 2012 to have Kind Kids brought to the school. The sharing project was very popular. After 12/14, Ms Avari reached out to see if Ben’s Bells could bring some measure of comfort to the community.

Ben’s Bells consist of four or five handmade ceramic pieces in a variety of simple designs — flowers, balls, discs — that are strung in a line of leather, ending with a small copper cow bell. The bells are hung inconspicuously about a community in need of kindness, Ms Maté told The Newtown Bee in January 2013. The bells are not always placed in communities that have suffered great tragedy, like Newtown. They are meant to be discovered and brought home, or passed on, to bring a bit of brightness to a dark place.

They are intended, Ms Maté said, “to be a happy surprise.”

A tag attached to each Newtown bell explained that the bell “symbolizes our connection as a community and the power we each have to change the world by committing to kindness, one interaction at a time. We surround all of those who were affected by the events of Dec. 14 with love and kindness.” The flip side of the tag noted: “You have found a Ben’s Bell. Take it home, hang it and remember to spread kindness throughout our world.”

Within a month, a Ben’s Bells Newtown chapter had formed. Workshops were first hosted by HealingNewtown, and held in the hall at Newtown United Methodist Church. On July 13, a studio space at 17 Church Hill Road opened. It is the only Ben’s Bells studio outside of Arizona, and it has been hosting public studio time at least three times weekly (Wednesdays from 10 am to 3 pm and also 6 to 9 pm, and Saturdays from noon to 4 pm).

The studio also hosts special sessions around the school calendar and special events such as birthday parties and BBN fundraisers. The project does not charge for participation in its workshops, but relies on donations to cover the cost of materials and other needs.

The space has been donated, as has the kiln BBN uses to fire its Kindness Coins and the ceramic pieces for its bells. Since February 2013, it is estimated that 1,500 bells have been hung in Newtown and the surrounding area.

“We are so grateful to all our volunteers and supporters,” said Ms Avari, who figures she and other BBN volunteers have interacted with 5,200 people at workshops and special events during the past year. BBN also has also registered nearly 50 Kind Kids schools.

“With all the support we are receiving from the community, we are able to make more bells. This means there will be more Ben’s Bells hung around more often,” said Ms Avari. “It’s exciting to think that people could find a Ben’s Bell at any time, not just a few times a year.”

For additional information about Ben’s Bells Newtown, send e-mail to newtown@bensbells.org, visit bensbellsNewtown.org, or find the project on Facebook.

A girls night out filled with kindness is planned for Saturday, February 22. The event will run from 8 to 11 pm at the Church Hill Road studio. The adults-only evening will include light refreshments (BYOB) and “be kind” raffle prizes.

Donation is $10 per person, and proceeds will benefit the Newtown studio.

Reservations are required and can be done at feb22gno.eventbrite.com. Space is limited, and most spots have already been claimed. If you miss the February event, Ben’s Bells Newtown is planning to do monthly girls night out events.

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