Bells bring people together

| 15 Feb 2012 | 11:20

A project follows the mission: commit random acts of kindness Lafayette — "You know when something just finds you?" asks Karen Gage of the Unity Church of Sussex County in Lafayette. "I fell in love with the idea of randomly leaving a gift in public the first time I heard the story of Ben's Bells." The story of Ben's Bells began when Jeannette Maré of Tucson, Ariz., lost her son Ben to the croup just before his third birthday. She was sustained through her intense grieving by "simple acts of kindness" from friends and strangers alike. People began leaving notes hanging in her tree. That's what inspired her to create clay wind chimes and to leave them in random places for people to discover. The idea grew, fueled by the theme of random acts of kindness. And it was this that seemed to randomly find its way into Gage's life and inspire her to get involved. How it came to Lafayette When the Rev. Janice Billera, the spiritual leader of the Lafayette Unity Church, would visit her daughter at the University of Tucson, she'd walk through the courtyard of people creating colorful bells and often wonder why. Billera's daughter took a class on death and dying; on one occasion Maré was a visitor in the class. When she heard it, the story of Ben's bells so moved Billera she incorporated it into a sermon at her church. On that day, however, Karen Gage wasn't feeling well and missed the sermon — a copy of it was dropped off at her home, but she didn't get the chance to listen to it right away. When she did, she, too, was touched by the story and immediately knew that making Ben's Bells was something she wanted to do. Gage became devoted to the project, flying out to Tucson to learn how to correctly make the bells. Now, members of Unity Church gather every Wednesday and Sunday working on the bells. They invite others to join them, too. In the spring they hold a mass distribution day — the Ben's Bells committee randomly places the chimes in outdoor public areas, waiting for them to be found. Spreading kindness "It is a very random spreading of the bells," says the Rev. Billera. "I like that these random acts of kindness are not based on whether a person has been kind, or deserves it, and the fact that so much of people's own kindness went into creating one bell is causes a ripple effect." Unity's goal in creating the bells is to make the community aware of what they are for; when someone sees a bell they should understand it’s there for them to take. Billera says she is heartened by the way the project has brought the members of Unity Church together and hopes Ben's Bells will grow throughout the community. Since Ben's Bells are not affiliated with any religion, yet creating one is a spiritual act, both Gage and Billera say, they feel that their church is the perfect place for people to gather to make the bells, particularly since it is a non-denominational church. Member and bell maker, Betsy Ellis agrees. "The story of Ben's Bells resonated with me," says Ellis, who brings her young son, Peter, to help with the project. "There is a therapy to sitting here, playing with the clay, painting and knowing that my family have helped....knowing we took part in this." More information can be found at or contact