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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA Q&A;

    Jeannette Mare-Packard, executive director of Bens Bells, started the organization five years ago after the death of her 3-year-old son. The organizations goal is to spread kindness throughout the world.
    Jeannette Mare-Packard, executive director of Ben’s Bells, started the organization five years ago after the death of her 3-year-old son. The organization’s goal is to spread kindness throughout the world.

    Jeannette Mare-Packard, an adjunct faculty member of deaf studies and the executive director of Ben’s Bells, has directly impacted the lives of thousands with her organization and its message to spread kindness.

    Ben’s Bells are hand-crafted wind chimes placed in random places around Tucson twice a year to spread a message of kindness. Mare-Packard started the project with her husband to honor her son Ben, who died at age 3.

    In a recent interview with the Arizona Daily Wildcat, Mare-Packard discussed balancing her role as a teacher with the demands of Ben’s Bells and expanding bell distributions across the nation. She also shared some of the stories that reinforce the importance of her central message: Be kind.

    Wildcat: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

    Jeannette Mare-Packard: I am an adjunct faculty member at the University of Arizona and I teach sign language interpreting. … I went to the UA, my father was a professor at the UA, so I’ve been a UA person for a long time. After the death of my son five years ago, I started a nonprofit organization called the Ben’s Bells Project. Ben’s Bells are ceramic wind chimes that we hang all over the community and we have a studio just west of the university where people come, hang out and work on making Ben’s Bells.

    W: What is the message behind Ben’s Bells?

    JMP: The whole point behind Ben’s Bells is how powerful the simple acts of intentional kindness can be. That’s what our mission is, with Ben’s Bells, is to be kind. All of the stuff we are doing is to just get people thinking about it more. I want people to wake up in the morning and know that they have the power to spread good throughout the day. We don’t have to all be making massive grand gestures; we just all need to be consistently kind in small interactions, and, eventually, it will change the world.

    W: How do you balance Ben’s Bells, which has really expanded in the past five years, with teaching?

    JMP: I really love teaching, but balancing is not easy because Ben’s Bells is becoming much larger and needs more commitment. It’s hard to balance, but my students that I teach are really into Ben’s Bells as well, and many of them volunteer with us. I am balancing, but it’s tough, and I don’t know what things will look like in a little while.

    W: You’ve been in Geronimo Plaza on University Boulevard for about a year now. Has this made it easy for UA students, faculty and staff to become involved in your project?

    JMP: People love it, working with Ben’s Bells, because it’s really fun. There’s something about clay that really feels good, and it’s really relaxing. The dean of students sends us kids who have to do community service, which is fun, and they really love it, too. Lots and lots of clubs and sororities have discovered it, too, and there are some that come every week. We have such a beautiful outdoor space, and we just love the feel here (in Geronimo). It’s just right. The only thing that is difficult is that we don’t have a kiln here, so we have to truck back and forth. I’d like to talk to (the UA) about maybe using some of their kilns they have here. Maybe we could even get ceramic students to help.

    W: So, how can someone receive a Ben’s Bell?

    JMP: There are two ways. Either a person is nominated for their kind acts and then chosen to receive a bell, or bells are found from mass distributions of Ben’s Bells that we do twice a year. Typically, we hang about 1,000 bells in each distribution (in March and September) with 500 distributed in Tucson and 500 somewhere else. To date, we’ve put out 7,500 bells, and people just find them in random places with tags that say what it is and to take it home and spread kindness.

    W: There are so many touching stories on your Web site that have come from those who have found a Ben’s Bell. Do you have any favorites?

    JMP: Well, we just got back from New Orleans, which was one of the most profound experiences of my life. We received so many messages from New Orleans, where people are just dying for a little bit of hope and letting us know that the bell meant something, which is really gratifying for us. When we got back, a woman called me from an area that was particularly hard-hit by Katrina, and said, “”I have to talk fast because I don’t have a lot of money but I wanted to tell you my story,”” and she told me about the devastation in her area and how much the bell meant to her. I just can’t read these stories without crying, because it’s amazing to me how a simple thing can mean so much.

    W: For years, the distribution of Ben’s Bells has remained in Tucson. Are you beginning to expand?

    JMP: That’s kind of a new thing that we’re doing. We’ve done Phoenix and we did a state tour as well, but with every Ben’s Bell distribution here, we’re traveling to another place, and it was really great to do New Orleans as one of our first places outside of Tucson. We’ve done 500 in Phoenix, 500 in smaller towns in Arizona.

    W: Did you ever anticipate Ben’s Bells growing to the size that it has?

    JMP: I still can’t believe it. Every day, something happens that amazes me. “”The Today Show”” called and interviewed us! A lot of really special things happen every day. It’s incredible for me. I am completely humbled to be Ben’s mother and to be doing this in his memory. I really feel like he’s the guy in charge.

    W: Where do you see Ben’s Bells in five years?

    JMP: In five years, I predict that we will have to have a bigger studio. We will have satellite studios around the country and we’ll have a really good to-go system, where people at a distance can work on it and ship them to us. We will be close to 20,000 bells distributed. This thing has a momentum of its own, which makes us know that this is really what we should be doing.

    – Interview conducted by Kelly Lewis

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