Aronson becomes first East-coaster ‘belled’ for kindness

Kendra Baker photos
On May 23, Wilton High School senior and Warrior Words columnist Tor Aronson became the first person in the eastern United States to be presented with a Ben’s Bell.

The nonprofit Ben’s Bells Project was founded by Tucson, Ariz., resident Jeannette Maré following the sudden and unexpected death of her almost 3-year-old son, Ben, in 2002.

The mission of the Ben’s Bells Project is to inspire, educate and motivate people to realize the power of kindness and empower them to act kindly in order to strengthen themselves, their relationships and their communities.

After her son’s death, Maré said, she started to understand kindness “in a really different way.”

“People supported me and my family during a time that I didn’t think I could survive, and that kindness was powerful,” she said at the ceremony. “It was courageous and it saved my life, and that is not an exaggeration.”

Maré said she realized that not only did she need people she knew to treat her and her family with kindness but she needed everybody to do so — “including complete strangers.”

“Strangers would open doors; they would smile and say, ‘Good morning.’ They would step off the sidewalk so I could walk through. … I felt myself wanting to tell them that they may not think what they were doing was a big deal but it was a really, really big deal,” she said.

“The idea that kindness is so powerful and that each of us has a choice in every interaction that we make to treat someone with kindness — that’s what really resonated with me.”

Ben’s Bells was born out of the belief that kindness doesn’t get “the recognition that it deserves,” said Maré.

Ben’s Bells started as a small project in Maré’s family’s garage and now has studios in Tucson and Phoenix, Ariz., as well as Bethel, Conn.

Maré said Ben’s Bells are “special” because “thousands of volunteers” help make them, and by the time one is finished, “at least 10 different people have worked on it.”

“They symbolize community, connection and the idea that we are in this together,” she said. “Even if we don’t know each other, there’s a lot we can do to make life better for each other by being intentional about kindness.”

Maré said Ben’s Bells are “even more special” because “you can’t buy one.”

“The only way to get a Ben’s Bell is to find one or to be ‘belled,’” she said. “We hang them around communities for people to find. Each one has a tag that says to take it home and spread kindness.”

To date, Maré said, more than 60,000 Ben’s Bells have been hung for people to find.

As for “belling,” she said, the Ben’s Bells Project receives nominations from people who “write in and tell us about amazing people in the community who are making a real difference through kindness, who understand that kindness is not fluffy, who understand that kindness is powerful and who commit to doing it intentionally throughout their day.”

Maré surprised and presented the Ben’s Bell to Tor in front of his peers during Wilton High School’s senior ice cream social last week.

Tor Aronson

Maré said she was “really honored” to meet Tor after reading the nomination letter written by his school counselor, Dan Pompa, and was “struck” by his balance of “confidence” and “complete humility.”

In the nomination letter, Pompa described Tor as a “modest, hard working, genuinely caring young man” who “cares about others, as well as about what he does,” “leads with inner strength,” “takes time to listen to others and has been known to speak out to support someone in need,” and places “the needs of others in front of his own.”

Tor has been a member of the high school’s student mentor program, Peervention, since his sophomore year and was selected to share the program’s student leadership position his junior year. He is also involved with the high school’s Buon Amico program, through which he helps new students transition into Wilton High School.

He also helped collect more than 12,000 pairs of socks for soldiers and veterans through this year’s Socks for Soldiers program.

Tor is not only vice president of the high school’s student government but has also been a member of the varsity tennis team since he was a freshman. He plays the alto saxophone, baritone saxophone, bassoon, and violin, and has performed with the high school’s marching band, jazz band, pit orchestra, wind ensemble, and select symphonic orchestra.

“With every group, he has made strong connections with his peers that have gone beyond the activity. He is perceived as a leader and a support by his peers, but also a true friend,” Pompa wrote in his letter.

“Tor is a special person whose path is crossing mine, and I am grateful for the impact he has made on my world.”

When she presented Tor with his bell, Maré said, “We each have so much power to influence people, and you’re doing it in so many ways” to benefit others. She said what struck her the most when reading about Tor was “this really cool balance between confidence and knowing your effect in the world and complete humility in recognizing we all need to keep learning about the world so we can connect better.”

Tor thanked his adviser, Ms. [Cheryl] Watson, “who has motivated me to participate in the things that I do, and Mr. Pompa … who showed me the way I am going.”