Middle School unveils ‘be kind’ mural


The Ben’s Bells mural at John Read Middle School.

The smallest act of kindness can go a long way toward making someone’s day brighter.

That was the resounding message Jeannette Mare, the founder of the Ben’s Bells organization, had for students at John Read Middle School at a special assembly on Wednesday. She traveled to the school all the way from her home in Arizona.

Mare traveled to John Read Middle School to honor the school’s recent installation of a Ben’s Bells mural on the front of the school.

Jeannette Mare, the founder of Ben’s Bells, spoke to kids at John Read Middle School last Wednesday.

Fifth-grade teacher Suzen Stewart said that John Reed Middle School’s connection to Ben’s Bells began a few years ago when her class traveled to the Bethel studio of the organization to make kindness coins.  

“The students painted coins that would then be finished in a kiln and eventually make their way into the JRMS community,” she said.  

“Kindness coins are passed on from person to person to recognize an act of kindness. At JRMS, we have roughly 200 kindness coins in circulation,” Stewart said.

After their first studio experience, John Read students wanted to become more involved in Ben’s Bells and looked into having their school become a kind campus.  

“We have been working on including more kindness education and recognizing more kind acts within the school community over the last two years,” Stewart said. “Our new mural was hand crafted by students and installed in May by a team from Ben’s Bells and parent volunteers.”

The organization’s Bethel studio opened as a result of the shootings in Sandy Hook in 2012.

“After December 14, 2012, a group of volunteers came to Sandy Hook and hung over 1,000 bells. Their impact on the Sandy Hook community was powerful and the studio was opened in Bethel,” Stewart said.

Ben’s Bells

Ben’s Bells is a worldwide program with the mission to promote kindness through the creation and distribution of handmade bells in random places. When found, each bell has a tag that says “take the bell home and spread kindness.”

Ben’s Bells was created in memory of Mare’s son, Ben, who died in 2002 when he was just 2 years old.

In front of several hundred students who were all listening intently, Mare said the kindness people showed her and her family during this difficult period meant much to them. Friends pitched in to drive her older son to school, brought her meals, and did many other thoughtful things, she said.

“Kindness is deep, strong, powerful and really courageous,” she said. “There was so much kindness shown to us that I felt supported in all the sadness I needed to feel from losing Ben.”

All these kind acts inspired Mare to create Ben’s Bells.  

The “bells were first made in my backyard with my friends and family. They’re very special and they symbolize community,” said Mare, who travels to schools, businesses and other places to spread the word about Ben’s Bells.

“On the first anniversary of Ben’s death, we hung 400 bells around Tuscon, Arizona, with tags that said take this home and remember kindness. Ben’s Bells grew and grew from that time. We have since hung over 60,000 bens bells throughout Tucson, Phoenix and Connecticut,” she said.

Mare told the students that it’s okay to feel sad.  

“Sadness is a normal part of being a human and we can learn to be much better about listening to and supporting each other if we have the courage to talk about what is making us sad,” she said.

She explained that kindness is a skill set.

“When you practice a skill, you get better at it. It is in our power to be kind, we do get to choose it. Nobody else gets to tell us how we respond to something.”

She spoke about how people tend to remember a negative experience much quicker than a positive one.  

“Our brain grabs onto little things and we hold onto those things and ruminate about them. For example, what will you remember easier, a compliment or an insult?” she asked the students.

Several raised their hands and said, “an insult.”

Mare compared kindness skills to surfing skills.

“The more you practice them, the better you will be able to navigate life’s ups and downs,” she said.

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