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Life and Work with Jeannette Maré

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeannette Maré.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
17 years ago, on what started out as a very ordinary day, my life changed in a way that I never would have chosen. On that day, my almost three-year-old son, Ben, died suddenly and unexpectedly. He died of a common virus just like that. My family and I were thrown into a grief experience that we were not prepared for and, honestly, I felt like I couldn’t survive it. I was experiencing a pain that I never could have imagined and I didn’t know what to do with it.

Fortunately for me and for my family, we were surrounded by amazing people who offered us kindness, after kindness, after kindness during that incredibly painful time. You know the kind of things people did… they brought us food, they wrote us beautiful cards, they listened to us talk about Ben and about his death. They sat with us as we cried. They cried with us. I started understanding kindness in a different way. You know, everyone loves kindness, but we often think of it as soft, as “rainbows and butterflies,” as something that we can deal with after the real problems are solved. That was not my experience with kindness. Kindness was not soft. Those people who were willing to brave the discomfort of my grief and offer me real kindness saved my life.

Like every grieving parent I’ve met, I had a strong need to do something in Ben’s memory, to honor him and to show gratitude for the support that was keeping me going. My friends, family, and I started making Ben’s Bells in my garage. On the first anniversary of Ben’s death, we hung out 400 Ben’s Bells, each with a written message to simply take it home and pass on the kindness.

The ripple effect that followed was incredible. The people who found Bells had stories to tell about grief and healing and hope. Their stories illustrated the need for more kindness and that people are hungry for a way to promote and practice kindness. From there, Ben’s Bells grew and grew and today it is an organization that inspires and teaches kindness to tens of thousands of people in Arizona.

The heart of our work is kindness education. Kindness skills can be taught and practiced and when we improve these skills, we improve every aspect of our lives. In education, these skills are called Social Emotional Learning or Emotional IQ, and seasoned teachers will tell you that they are every bit as important as academic skills. If you’re an employer, then you know that people with these skills are exactly who you want to hire!

At Ben’s Bells, we infuse kindness education into every aspect of our community so that together we can learn to take care of each other better. A connected community is a foundation for solving our social problems and we are hard at work building that foundation.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I don’t think anyone gets a smooth road, at least not for long. There were lots of challenges, lots of opportunities to problem solve and to grow. Our biggest struggle was very rapid growth. We were fortunate to receive a lot of great media attention and that helped people connect with us. Growing fast can be dangerous as there is always the risk of losing the integrity of the mission. My advice is to accept that struggle is what we do! It helps to get more comfortable being uncomfortable because most growth experiences come with at least a bit of discomfort. If you feel uncomfortable, pay attention to that! You’re probably about to learn and grow! And spend a lot of time helping your colleagues settle into a growth mindset. It takes time to create a culture where struggling and growth are what is expected and the time you invest in creating this culture will pay you back over and over with a more kind and productive workplace.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Ben’s Bells – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
For over 15 years, Ben’s Bells has been infusing the practice of intentional kindness throughout Arizona. Tens of thousands of citizens are engaged with Ben’s Bells educational programming offered through our studios, schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Ben’s Bells has become a beloved part of our Arizona culture and the enthusiastic demand for our programming gives us a unique opportunity to reach diverse audiences.

Ben’s Bells’ mission is to educate communities about the known positive impacts of intentional kindness and to empower individuals to act according to that awareness. Although Ben’s Bells is known for its colorful ceramic bells hung throughout Arizona and beyond, the heart of the mission is kindness education – the teaching, learning, and practicing of life skills that serve all of us in every aspect of our lives.

Kindness skills (regulating emotions, self-control, responsible decision-making, showing empathy for others, etc.) are positively correlated to students’ academic, as well as lifelong, success.

Ben’s Bells serves the entire community by offering programming that can be accessed by individuals, families, neighborhoods, schools, organizations, and businesses and by creating visual reminders to practice kindness through our prolific mosaic mural program. Individuals, families, and groups are served through our studio programming, by using our materials for practicing kindness, and by attending our community speaker events. There are 175 schools in Arizona engaged in our Kind Campus Program and thousands of employees are creating a culture of kindness in their workplace through our Kind Colleagues Program. Inspirational stories of kindness are highlighted by the media through our Belling Program.

What sets us apart from others? We believe that kindness skills need to be reinforced and practiced in all areas of our lives and all throughout our life span. We serve everyone and anyone who wants to engage! We have programming for young and old and everyone in between and we work hard to make our programming accessible to diverse audiences. Maybe you’ve heard the quote, “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.” Life is wave-y and kindness skills – how we care for ourselves and each other – are our surfing skills.

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
I have enjoyed and benefitted from community leadership programs like Valley Leadership and Flinn-Brown. Through community programs like these, I’ve met folks who are as excited about improving our community as I am and I have learned so much from them!

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