staff

 

Ben's Mom

 

Leah TaylorJeannette Maré
Founder/Executive Director

The simple kindness of strangers and friends sustained me and my family after our son, Ben, died just before his third birthday. Inspired by these gestures, we created Ben’s Bells, a community project that encourages, celebrates and teaches kindness. Before becoming full time Executive Director of Ben’s Bells, I was faculty at the University of Arizona teaching discourse analysis. I am grateful to have the opportunity to combine my two passions – teaching and community building – in my role with Ben’s Bells. See more of Jeannette's story here.

 


 

Tucson Headquarters

 

Michael BilharzMichael Bilharz
Merchandise Manager

I’m a California native who transplanted to Tucson in May, 2003. I’ve worked in Retail Management, Human Resources, Administrative Operations and Fund Development. I’ve always been drawn to the incredible work non-profits do, so when the opportunity to utilize my retail skills in a non-profit setting presented itself I knew it was a perfect match. I’m passionate about Ben’s Bells because the concept of being kind is universally understood, but often forgotten. The power of kindness is truly life changing and having the opportunity to share that with the greater community is a tremendous honor.

 

 

Leah TaylorMatt Bowdren
Education Coordinator

I've lived all over the country, but am glad to call Tucson home. For two years I was a Faculty Fellow at the University of Arizona in the Department of Theatre, Film, and Television where I taught studio acting and directing classes as well as graduate level seminars. Currently, I serve as the Education Director for The Rogue Theatre. At the Rogue, I engage the community as an actor and educator, teaching various methodologies for actors. I hold an M.F.A. in Performance from the University of Georgia.

 

 

Michael Bilharz

Amy Collinsworth
Marketing & Communications Manager

Born and raised in Glendale, Arizona, I spent the early years of my adult life in Flagstaff, where I graduated from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelors in Theatre Performance. Looking for a change of scenery and wanting to be closer to my family, I moved to Tucson in 2006 and I have been working in nonprofit membership and development since 2010. I feel fortunate to now call Tucson my home. It is a rare place full of character and beauty. One of the things that makes Tucson so inspiring is Ben’s Bells. I am blessed to have the opportunity to support the work of Ben’s Bells.

 

 

Colleen ConlinColleen Conlin
Art Project Manager

I received a BA in Studio Art, minoring in Psychology, from the University of Arizona.  As an artist, teacher and Art Project Manager for Ben's Bells, I am able to combine my passion for ceramics with my work. I am drawn to Ben's Bells because it inspires us to connect with one another, especially through art. I continue to be inspired by the stories from people who are touched by the project. 

 


 

  Leah Taylor

Sandra Darang
Bookkeeper

Raised in a military family and married to a military serviceman, I have had the opportunity to live in many places. I enjoy meeting new people and all the wonderful diversity that they share with me. I received my Bachelor’s Degree in Finance and have worked the past 8 years in the nonprofit sector as a bookkeeper. In 2006, my husband, son and I moved to Tucson. I feel blessed that I found a wonderful place to share and witness kindness daily and look forward to new experiences at Ben’s Bells.

 

 

Leah TaylorLaura Gronewold, PhD
Director of Education

I grew up in Michigan and have called the Western U.S. home since graduating college. I spent the past 13 years teaching college students, where I brought a social justice focus to teaching writing, gender/women’s studies, and civic engagement. My work teaching civic engagement deepened my connection to Tucson - a dynamic community where artists can still afford to live and work - and fueled a strong desire to immerse myself more fully in community education and development. I was drawn to Ben’s Bells through personal loss, but also because kindness is inherently social justice oriented for me. I am thrilled to be working for an organization that educates and encourages the practice of kindness and brings together my love of education, community, art, and social justice.

 

 

Katie Kevershan
Development Coordinator

I was born and raised in Tucson, and have a lot of love for the city and community. I graduated with a BA  in Sociology from the University of Arizona with the intention of working in the non profit sector. Ben's Bells has provided me the opportunity to do so within an organization whose mission is perfectly in-line with my personal values. I feel so fortunate to be a part of something meaningful and to work for an organization that is so involved with the Tucson community.

 

 

 

Leah TaylorChristine Plunkett
Director of Operations

Originally, from Buffalo NY, I have traveled and lived in many different cities, with Tucson always being my favorite. I returned here in 2005 with my husband and began our family. With a Bachelors in Finance and Management, most of my career has been in the banking industry. When I returned to school to complete my Master’s degree in Accountancy, I was called to work in the nonprofit sector. I have found a place at Ben’s Bells where my heart and work align. 



 

 

Leah TaylorJake Sorgen
Volunteer Coordinator

I'm originally from Woodstock, New York and found Tucson after stints in both Boston, MA and Austin, TX. The community and commitment to culture and the arts I've found here is unlike anything I've seen before. Finding a home at Ben's Bells is a further extension into that community that I engage with as Music Director for The Rogue Theatre and a musician in a variety of ensembles and settings around Tucson. I'm honored to support such an inspiring organization.

 

 

 

Jodi Vander Ploeg
Director of Development

Most of my life has been spent in Ohio, where I grew up and earned my BA in Hospitality Management at Ohio State. My career has been focused on non-profits and the travel & tourism industry, which includes service in Kazakhstan with the Peace Corps. Throughout my career my work has reflected my personal passions, and that holds true now more than ever.  It is a privilege and an honor to work with all the wonderful supporters of Ben’s Bells and its mission to spread intentional kindness. 

 

 

  Leah TaylorJenny Simmerman
Operations Administrative Assistant

I recently moved to Tucson from San Diego, where I was a marketer for a hair accessory start up, but have family here, and have enjoyed the city and surrounding area for years. I love the indoors, politics, NY Times crossword puzzles, and cooking. I have done undergraduate and graduate studies in Political Science, and do advocacy work for the homeless. I was so taken by the mission of Ben’s Bells, and its impact on others, and I am very glad to be a part of that effort.

 

Shop KIND

 

Leah TaylorEva Owen
Merchandise Program Assistant

 

 
 

Tucson, AZ Studios

 

Leah Taylor Valori Akers
Studio Assistant

I recently moved to Tucson from Portland, Or. There I attended Pacific NW College of Art as a printmaking major. I love any art medium I can get my hands on and I'm a big believer in DIY projects. I am a certified Advocate for survivors of interpersonal violence and have studied the psychological and physiological effects of trauma extensively. I believe that we can choose to act in the world as we wish it to be through compassion, care and intention. The desert is such a magical and inspiring place and I'm happy to be here and happy to learn and grow in a nurturing work environment.

 

 

Leah TaylorKate Callahan
Production Assistant

A fifth generation Tucsonan, my heart has always been rooted in this beautiful and vibrant desert community. However, after graduating from the University of Arizona with my Bachelor of Arts in Art History and Italian, I ventured to San Francisco where I worked for an auction house in the Contemporary Art department, expanding my knowledge of the arts. Now I am grateful to be back in my home city, working for an organization that allows me to exercise my passion for the arts while simultaneously contributing to a greater and kinder Tucson community (and beyond)!


 

 

Leah TaylorBrittany Fitzgerald
Studio Coordinator

I was born in Tempe, AZ but most of my life has been split between Arizona, Colorado and California. I received a BA in Visual Arts at the University of San Diego and had the opportunity to study abroad in Florence, Italy. For the past eight years I’ve lived in Denver where I had a taste of corporate retail as a visual merchandiser but left to work and volunteer in the nonprofit sector at the Denver Art Museum and the Colorado History Museum. I left Denver in May of 2015, travelling to Costa Rica and back, searching for a new place to call home and a meaningful way to incorporate my passion for art, community and empathy in my everyday life. I feel extremely lucky to have found all of that and more in Tucson and at Ben’s Bells, leaving me feeling more fulfilled than ever before.
 

 

Connecticut Studio

 

Cody Foss
Regional Manager

I have lived and worked in Newtown, CT for over 13 years with my wife Jennifer and our  three school aged children. I hold a MS in Health Sciences and a BA in Sociology. I have 25 years, of experience in health and wellness. During this time, I have worked as an allied health professional, public presenter, author and manager/owner of multiple facilities in NYC and Fairfield County, CT. Over the last few years I have passionately created, directed and participated in several community engagements focusing on helping children. These programs have been collaborative efforts with multiple local and national organizations with a focus of teaching Kindness, empathy, compassion and other social emotional Intelligence (SEL) qualities on a community wide basis. I deeply connect with the mission of Ben’s Bells on both a personal and professional level. I’m honored to have an opportunity to spread “Kindness” in the Northeast!
 

 

Phoenix, AZ Studio

 

Christy Brown
Phoenix Studio Manager

A native of the Midwest, I moved to Arizona in 2006 to attend Arizona State University, where I received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Museum Studies and Design Management.  I have a passion for working in non-profits, and I love that Ben's Bells combines my love of working with the community, volunteers, and art. I am so thrilled to be representing Ben's Bells in Phoenix, and to be a part of such an amazing team and inspiring organization that is doing so much for so many!

 

 

 

Leah Taylor
Sarah Kelly
Studio Assistant

Originally from California, I’ve spent my adulthood living and traveling the world, 14 of those years living abroad.  I moved to the Phoenix area in 2014 with my son.  I am currently working on completing my BA in Liberal Arts with an emphasis on Art Education.  I’ve worked with many non-profits as a teaching artist working with abused and at risk youth, homeless families, and military children.  My passion is in working with non-profits, using art to create and foster community while providing an opportunity for others to experience the joy of creating.  I am very excited to be working with Bens Bells Project, an organization that I feel aligns perfectly with my own personal values while allowing me the opportunity to share my passion for art and community.

 

Interns

 

Kate Harris
University of Arizona
Global Studies and French / Film and Television Minor
May 2017
Masters in French
May 2018

 

Taylor Slagle
University of Arizona
Accounting
May 2019

  Maddie Bowers
Brigham Young University Idaho
Business Management/ Finance Emphasis
July 2017
  Anna Mathew
University of Arizona
Physiology/Business Administration & Public Health Minors
May 2017