In May, 2006, I directed my last concert at Franklin Academy, a private school in Kennewick, Washington. It was the final concert of the school year which had included an amazing tour where we had performed seven concerts in Boise, ID, Salt Lake City, UT and Logan, UT. Leaving the school and the Franklin Academy Bell Choir was difficult for me--Mrs. Damstedt, the bell teacher--because I had grown to love handbells through directing performances, learning with and teaching young people the joy of music through handbells. I had directed performances at many different events, in cities such as Portland, Oregon, Spokane and Seattle, Washington, Caldwell, Idaho, at Disneyland, and most especially in the Tri-Cities area and I loved directing and hearing these kids play, not to mention the effect on the audiences! I had made the decision to leave, and though I believed it to be the right decision, it was still hard to give up something I had spent so much time and effort on for nearly five years. I didn’t know when I would again have the opportunity to be involved with handbells.
One night, just a few days later, I was thinking about how I could actually teach handbells out of my own home. I was excited about this and couldn’t sleep, so I got up and went on the computer and checked out E-Bay. Unbelievably, there was a five-octave set of handbells for sale. Months earlier, my husband and I had talked about the possibility of buying some handbells of my own, but I hadn’t seriously looked into buying them. But, here was a set on E-Bay! I bid on them and a few weeks later, we were the owners of a set of handbells!
In January of 2006, my husband and I decided we wanted to adopt two more children, from China, to add to our family of 6 biological children ages 9-21. We contacted an agency and soon saw a “Waiting Child” list with our daughter on it. While we were in the process of deciding if she indeed was to be our daughter, I was put in touch with Amy Eldridge, Director of Operations of Love Without Boundaries, “a worldwide group of volunteers dedicated to the belief that ’every child counts’.” This organization provides “humanitarian aid primarily to orphaned children in China through four key areas: medical, education, nutrition, and foster care.” Amy told me about this little 8 year old girl, who she had personally met, who lived at an orphanage that had received much help from Love Without Boundaries’ efforts. This child’s life had most definitely been made better by the goodness of these people. I believe that it is because of the efforts of Amy and this organization that many children have been placed in adoptive homes. We made the decision to adopt her and proceeded with the paperwork. Within a few months, I directed that last concert at the school. I knew I needed to be home and available to help teach and care for this little girl.
During the summer, while waiting for the adoption, I held three “Bell Camps”, each for a different age group. I offered these “camps” for free, hoping it would create interest in future lessons and help me see what to expect and how to set up my classes, especially with giving me insight on what ages to include. I had the parents fill out surveys, which helped me to see if this would be something there would be an interest in, and if people would pay to have their children involved. I planned to start in January, 2007, after my new daughter had come home and learned some English and was somewhat settled in. In October, I did start a free ladies group, which later split into two ladies groups that performed at a church Christmas party in December. These ladies have enjoyed learning this skill and doing something new and fun, with laughter. I have enjoyed teaching them and even getting a chance now and then to ring myself, which I also enjoy.
While waiting to adopt, I was able to sponsor a little girl In the Love Without Boundaries’ Education program at my daughter’s orphanage, just as my daughter was sponsored before I adopted her. As I thought about things during those months after returning home with my daughter, ideas started to take shape. I wanted to do something that would benefit Love Without Boundaries since it works so hard to help children, with volunteer labor and people paying their own way to China when things need to be done. As ideas and possibilities were being considered, I thought of using the name “Bells Without Boundaries”, and I got permission from Love Without Boundaries to use since it is so similar. I decided to try offering children’s bell classes and to call my program “Bells Without Boundaries”. I also decided to charge for these lessons, which would bring in funds I could donate to Love Without Boundaries as well as pay the expenses of running my “studio”. I set up these fees for the classes, or in some cases, worked out trades, some of which are solely to benefit Love Without Boundaries through donations of quilts to their organization for an Art auction or to be sold in their online store.
I used my surveys from the bell camps, talked to ladies who were in my ladies groups, and started spreading the word. When the week to begin came, I had a few openings, but during that first week, I had more people who wanted their children to participate. After the first week of lessons, I moved some of the older kids I had in one class and, after recruiting a few more, started a teen class also. This brought me to teaching the two free ladies classes and three kids’ classes each week. Plus, it provided bell groups in which three of my children, including my new daughter, could play. The names of my groups are: 1. Beginning: “WhispeRing Bells Without Boundaries,
2. Beginning: “FloweRing” Bells Without Boundaries, 3. Teen: “ThundeRing” Bells Without Boundaries, 4. Ladies: “ExploRing” Love Without Boundaries and, 5. Ladies: “DiscoveRing” Bells Without Boundaries. We are preparing to perform at our city’s third annual Bell Festival in May.
After the education sponsorship I was funding ended by the designated child being adopted, I began to help sponsor another child’s foster care. I also became a volunteer for Love Without Boundaries, helping with some of their financial record-keeping. However, I am so excited that I can do something I love--teach and play handbells--while bringing in funds that will benefit the lives of little children who need heart surgery or better nutrition or need to be placed in foster care. Because the children and ladies also enjoy handbells, everybody wins in this situation. I have shared with members of Love Without Boundaries what I am trying to do. Amy Eldridge’s statement in response says it all: “Suzanne, every time I read about your project it just makes me smile. I just love thinking about the beautiful sound of handbells helping orphaned children in China.”
Incidentally, we are currently in the process of the paperwork for that second Chinese daughter. We hope to travel to China sometime this year to finish out our family! One more possible little ringer down the road! For more information on Love Without Boundaries, see www.lovewithoutboundaries.com.
Source: Love Without Boundaries Volunteer Handbook, p.3, copyright 2006.