Ben's Bells spreads kindness in Wilton

While opening her store on the morning of Sunday, Feb. 16, Bella & Co. owner Isabelle Bell spotted something out of the ordinary.

“I had just arrived at the store and while I was opening the door, I could hear the geese and ducks in the river,” said Ms. Bell. “After doing my normal morning routine of opening the store, I went outside to feed the birds, and that’s when I noticed the first bell hanging by the tree near the bird feeder.”

Ms. Bell said she knew exactly what it was: one of Ben’s Bells.

“Someone I know had found one on Saturday, so I was quite excited to find it,” she said. “It’s like finding a golden ticket from Willy Wonka.”

As Ms. Bell started walking back to her store, she stumbled upon a second bell hanging on a Rose of Sharon tree outside her store window.

Attached to each was a card that encouraged the finder to “take it home, hang it and remember to spread kindness throughout our world.”

Ms. Bell said she thinks the Ben’s Bells project is a wonderful message of kindness.

“The joy that these bells brings to someone when they are found is fantastic. You can’t help but pass the kindness on,” said Ms. Bell.

The bells Ms. Bell found that morning came from the Newtown chapter of the nonprofit Ben’s Bells project.

In 2003, Ben’s Bells was founded in Tucson, Ariz., following the sudden death of Jeannette Maré-Packard’s 2-year-old son Ben.

“The simple, everyday acts of kindness following his death helped her survive and begin to heal,” said Jodie Adolfson, a Ben’s Bells Newtown volunteer. “She was inspired to establish the Ben’s Bells project as a way to recognize and continue the kindness shown to her.”

On the first anniversary of Ben’s death, 400 of the brightly colored ceramic bells were hung in public places for strangers to find.

“To date, more than 33,000 bells have been hung in Tucson and beyond, “ said Ms. Adolfson.

After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Ms. Adolfson said, requests poured in from Connecticut residents and throughout the country for Ben’s Bells to be sent to Newtown to show kindness and support.

“One thousand bells were hung throughout the Newtown community on Jan. 8, leading to a widespread interest from Newtown to get involved in the creation of Ben’s Bells and with the mission to spread intentional kindness,” said Ms. Adolfson.

Since the chapter started on Feb. 11, 2013, Ben’s Bells Newtown has hung more than 1,600 bells in public places in Connecticut, Boston and Washington, D.C.

Ms. Adolfson, who manages the Newtown chapter with two other volunteers, said, “We have over 40 extremely dedicated volunteers, including high school students who dedicate 10 to 30 hours per month for Ben’s Bells Newtown.”

Volunteers like Jennifer Avari, of Newtown, and Beth Krueger, of Redding, help create and hang Ben’s Bells.

On Monday, March 10, Ms. Avari and Ms. Krueger carefully hung 50 bells on trees, light fixtures, doors and other nooks and crannies of Wilton Center.

“Ben’s Bells is such a great project,” said Ms. Krueger. “It’s a gift for people to find and then pass on that gift of kindness to others.”

Ms. Adolfson said the magic of the project depends on the random nature of the distribution.

“Bells are not given to friends or kept for oneself, even though we know they’re irresistible,” she said.

Ms. Adolfson said it takes approximately six weeks to make one Ben’s Bell from start to finish.

The first step is to make the bell’s flower centerpiece, which involves rolling, cutting and smoothing.

“It takes one week to dry between drywall before it’s fired in a kiln,” she said.

The centerpiece then requires four coats of glaze before it’s fired in the kiln again.

“Each bell requires three kindness beads, which are made by the community in our studio, at schools or at our workshops,” she continued. “Participants work with clay to make the beads and these beads dry for a week and then we fire them in the kiln.”

Since no one person or group works on the same beads, said Ms. Adolfson, bell-making is truly a community activity.

“One group will form a bead and another group will glaze and paint them,” she said. “We have volunteers string the bells and then a different group of volunteers hang them.”

After finding the two bells near her store, Ms. Bell said she and her daughter visited the Ben’s Bells Newtown studio on Church Hill Road and helped paint some of the bells’ beads.

By the time each Ben’s Bell is completed, at least 10 people will have contributed to its creation.

“One of the best parts is watching a bell be found and seeing the person’s reaction when they read the tag and realize that there is kindness in our world,” said Ms. Adolfson. “Every time someone looks at their bell, they will remember that someone cared to make that bell, which will solidify their belief in the power of kindness.”

Ms. Adolfson said that as with any nonprofit, fund raising has been a challenge, but not a huge one.

“Our supplies are not extremely expensive and our fund-raising model is quite simple: We require dollars, not thousands of dollars,” said Ms. Adolfson.

While there is no fee for helping to create the bells, Ben’s Bells Newtown does accept donations so the organization can increase its kindness-spreading activities.

“Donation money is used for more bell-making materials like clay, glaze, string and bells,” said Ms. Adolfson. “In addition to using donations for bells, we also use the money to help fund the Kind Kids Program for schools.”

The Kind Kids Program was developed through a partnership with the University of Arizona and the Ben’s Bells project.

The outreach program for kindergarten through eighth grade students is based on the belief that everyone has the capacity to be kind and that kindness is a choice that can be taught, said Ms. Adolfson.

Donations to Ben’s Bells Newtown may be sent to P.O. Box 191, Newtown CT 06470.

Information on the Ben's Bell Project: www.bensbells.org