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Celebrate Love Unironically 

Ben’s Bells brings new Locks of Love sculpture to Fourth Avenue

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Ben's Bells and the Fourth Avenue Merchants Association unveiled the ninth and newest Locks of Love sculpture on Fourth Avenue last week.

Ben's Bells founder and executive director, Jeanette Maré, and FAMA executive director, Fred Ronstadt announced the statue, situated on the east side of Fourth Avenue just north of Fifth Street.

Similar to the heart-shaped Locks of Love fixtures peppering Fourth, the sculpture allows people to attach padlocks and "throw away the key" to symbolize their love for family, significant others or just about anyone or anything else.

"Fourth Avenue is a place for lovers, it's a place for families and a place to celebrate who we are as a community," Ronstadt says.

The continuing partnership with Ben's Bells and the installation of the new sculpture "signify a different kind of love that we all appreciate in our community and that's kindness," he says.

Ben's Bells has been a Tucson staple, spreading its message of intentional kindness throughout the city for the past 14 years.

"This is very meaningful to us because Ben's Bells is all about Tucson," Maré says. "I don't know if Ben's Bells would have taken off like this in any other place."

Since the death of her three-year-old son, Ben, in 2002, Maré and thousands of volunteers have been crafting ceramic bells, which are placed all over Tucson for anyone to take home as a reminder to spread kindness in their everyday lives.

"This community has really nurtured this movement," Maré says. "People all over town have really jumped in feet first in really exploring this idea of 'how can we be kinder to each other?' and 'what does kindness look like through out our community?' and really gotten serious about it."

On the anniversary of Ben's death, the organization made its debut by placing hundreds of bells around Tucson. It was registered as a non-profit in 2005 and has since developed multiple programs to help spread kindness through schools, businesses and the community.

"We've come up with ways that we can offer opportunities for anybody—a family, or a bunch of friends, or a workplace—to come together around really what does the practice of kindness look like? How can we do kindness?"

Ben's Bells has since grown to employ a fulltime staff and offer Kind Kid and Kind Campus programs for schools and Kind Colleagues for businesses.

"Those are programs that are yearlong and completely free to schools," Maré says. "It's very bottom-up, very organic sort of programming where it's about creating a culture on campus where kindness is in the air."

More than 200 schools around the nation have implemented the programs to help kids understand the importance of being kind.

Several Tucson businesses, including the Tucson Medical Center, Nova Home Loans, Hotel Congress and a fire department, have enrolled in the workplace programs to teach employees how to practice and spread kindness through their jobs and throughout the community.

"What we're really doing in a big way is infusing more kindness education throughout the community," she says. "All of our stuff is very evidence based. We have a scientific advisory council who helps us with the research base that supports all the work we do."

Maré says some of the "best minds in the nation" compose Ben's Bells scientific advisory council, which provides services from evaluation, review and upgrade of their programs to speaking, providing quotes and videos for the organization.

"The brain science tells us that what we focus on changes our brain. The practice of kindness is about exercising our brain in that way and then reaping the benefits from that," she says.

The organization's programming focuses on meta-cognition or being able to recognize and evaluate one's own thought process in order to be more thoughtful about our interactions with others.

"We start with really understanding how our brain works," Maré continues. "There's this very self-protected part of our brain that all of us have and if we can become aware of it, we can build a skillset so that we don't have to react from that fearful place all the time."

According to Maré and the Ben's Bells initiative, through understanding ourselves and practicing self-awareness, we can begin to spread kindness by considering the thought processes of others.

"We have a wonderful police department that's working with its community to get stronger, we have people in political positions, in leadership positions, in schools, in businesses and the prison system, all throughout this community that are having this conversation around kindness," Maré says.

Local artist Scott Petersen designed the Fourth Avenue sculpture, drawing inspiration from the iconic "be kind" logo.

"It was a pleasure to be a part of this project," Petersen says. "When you work on something like this for that long, the message really begins to resonate with you."

It took Petersen about a week to complete fabrication of the sculpture. The sculpture was created with laser plasma cutting and powder-coated with Ben's Bells signature "be kind" green.

Petersen partnered with local business Elegant Iron, owned by Amanda Holbert, to create the statue.

Now the sculpture will offer people the opportunity to display their love for each other and serve as a reminder to the visitors of Fourth Avenue to spread kindness in their daily lives.

"I really do think we have something special going in Tucson," Maré says. "It's in schools and businesses and on the street, on Fourth Avenue and it's on a bumper sticker and it's in the paper and it just becomes part of people's world view."

More by Nick Meyers

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