Jeannette Maré is the founder and Chief Kindness Officer of Ben’s Bells Project. Jeannette’s leadership has anchored the organization through remarkable growth, including the opening of four studios, collaborating with hundreds of local organizations and recruiting more than 25,000 annual volunteers. As part of her vision, Ben’s Bells has become nationally recognized and “kindness” is becoming part of the nation’s collective consciousness.
Before becoming full time Executive Director of Ben’s Bells, Jeannette was faculty at the University of Arizona teaching discourse analysis. She holds a Masters Degree in Linguistics from Gallaudet University in Washington D.C.
Jeannette lives in Tucson and is grateful to have the opportunity to combine her two passions – teaching and community building – in her role with Ben’s Bells.
Interested in having Jeannette speak at your next event? Find out more information here.
March 29th, 2002 started as a very normal day in our lives. Our sons, Matthew – nearly 6 and Ben – nearly 3 – were home playing with a playmate. Ben had a cold and a bit of a croupy cough. We were not alarmed. Never did it enter our minds that Ben was seriously ill or that he could die. And then he did. It only took seconds for him to become unconscious after his airway swelled shut. Jeannette’s efforts at rescue breathing and CPR were in vain as Ben’s airway was completely closed. In those moments on the morning of Good Friday our lives changed forever.
The depth of pain we were experiencing was beyond description. Every parent’s worst nightmare was our reality and we didn’t know how we would possibly survive. More than anything we just wished we could die. Perhaps we would have died if not for Matthew. He was still alive and he needed us as he had never needed us before.
Slowly, we began incorporating coping strategies into our lives. We came up with a design for Ben’s Bells and started making them in our back yard studio with friends. The therapeutic effect of working with clay was amazing as was the power of being surrounded by people talking and working toward a common goal. We decided to make hundreds of the Bells and distribute them randomly in our community to encourage the kindness that we so depended on to get through each day. Since Ben’s death, it had been the kindness of others, strangers and friends, that had helped us begin to heal. We wanted to find a way to pass on that kindness and to help others in the process.
On the first anniversary of his death, hundreds of Ben’s Bells were distributed throughout Tucson, hung randomly in trees, on bike paths, and in parks with a written message to simply take one home and pass on the kindness.
The ripple effect that followed was wonderful and startling. Individuals finding the Bells had stories to tell - lots of them - about grief and healing and hope. Our local newspaper printed the story - front page - next to fast breaking news of the war in Iraq. School groups and businesses and individuals began calling to see how they could get involved and in no time, hundreds and hundreds of Tucsonans were involved in crafting Ben’s Bells.
Ben’s Bells symbolize kindness and its power in healing. We hope that they will touch others’ lives and help to make our community a more gentle place to live. We are so very grateful for our community’s incredible enthusiasm for the project and together we are making a difference.
Jeannette, Dean and Matthew
In memory of our beautiful boy ...