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Creation of Ben's Bells inspirational, quickens kindness in young students

 

All it took for Jake Jeppson to vow to treat his older brother with more kindness was some clay.

It was an epiphany the 7-year-old had while he made beads for Ben's Bells last Wednesday at Harelson Elementary School, 826 W. Chapala Drive.

"Me and my brother fight a lot, and I wanted to stop," Jake said about one of his motivations to take part in the project.

Jake, a second-grader, proposed the community service project to his fellow classmates during his bid for class governor.

Jake wasn't elected to the position, but he and his classmates did the project anyway.

"I really wanted to be class governor," Jake said. "You get to do a project, and this is what I wanted to do."

Jake heard about the Ben's Bells project on a local radio station.

His mom, Debra, helped arrange the visit by the project's executive director and Ben's mom, Jeanette Maré-Packard.

Maré-Packard and her husband, Dean, started the project to honor their 2-year-old son, Ben, who died suddenly from croup in March 2002.

Twice a year, volunteers place ceramic wind chimes in public places throughout the city for individuals to claim.

The project has distributed more than 6,500 wind chimes in Arizona, Oregon, Washington and California.

For their part, Bonnie Whalon's second-graders and their fourth-grade reading buddies molded clay into round- , dice- and heart-shaped beads. The beads will be fired in a kiln and painted by other volunteers.

"I liked seeing what the others did — how many different ideas there are in the world," fourth-grader Noah Jeppson, 9, said.

Noah, like his brother, Jake, said the project would benefit his relationship with his younger sibling.

The idea behind the project is to perform acts of kindness on a daily basis, Maré-Packard said.

Maré-Packard has found that children easily comprehend the message.

"It is just so gratifying to work with the kids," she said. "They really get it."

Second-grader Leighton Rickel, 7, plans to apply the message by apologizing to people she hurts.

Leighton said she learned "you should always be kind to people."

Like Leighton, Jordan Perdue, 7, promises to be kinder to people.

"I could be nice to people and give them stuff they don't really have," the second-grader said.

In addition to the Ben's Bells project, Whalon's second-graders just finished collecting 200 books for students at Drexel Elementary School, 801 E. Drexel Road, in the Sunnyside Unified School District. And now, the students are collecting teddy bears for the Tucson Police Department.

"I really want them to be able to reach out to others and develop leadership qualities," Whalon said. "They are good leaders and good givers."

Lily LaDuke, 7, wants to reach out and be kind to students on the playground.

"I learned that you need to be kind every day by asking kids if they want to play," the second-grader said.

And while the students learned a valuable lesson, they also had a great time doing it.

"I like getting my hands dirty," Jordan said as she smeared clay all over her palms. "It was the greatest day of my life."

● Contact reporter Andrea Rivera at 806-7737 or arivera@azstarnet.com.

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