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Warm Bench, Warm Hearts


If you need a buddy, have a seat.

That’s the message Junior Girl Scouts want their peers to hear. Two Caledonia troops recently added special benches called Buddy Benches to the Dutton Elementary and Caledonia Elementary playgrounds for anyone feeling lonely.

The idea is for students to befriend anyone they see on the bench.

“When people get sad and when they don’t have a friend to play with, they can go to the Buddy Bench,” said fifth-grader Kiersten DeHaan.

The girls also see the benches as the perfect place to work things out. “If people get mad at each other they usually walk away. They don’t talk it out,” said Brianna Webber.

The Dutton Girl Scouts chose the bench as a service project to earn their Bronze Award, the highest honor a Junior Girl Scout can achieve. The bench cost about $600, which the troop raised through a bake sale, hat day and cookie sale. They assembled the durable bench made from recycled plastic with help from their fathers.

Caledonia Elementary Scouts also raised money for their bench, including through a coin drive.

They said not having a friend to turn to doesn’t feel good. “It feels like you don’t have anyone to play with,” said Ella Norberg.

Buddy Benches have been popping up on playgrounds around the world. In 2013, a 10-year-old boy from Pennsylvania learned about a school in Germany that had one and worked to have one installed at his school. A story in the local newspaper about it went viral and was featured on national news including on the “Today Show.” Another girl, Acacia Woodley founded the company Tiny Girl Big Dream in 2012 to bring to schools Friendship Benches, which have a similar concept.

Have a seat. Make a friend.
Have a seat. Make a friend.

A Tie-in With District’s Character Goals

Dutton Elementary Principal Shawn Veitch said the school is a Positive Behavior School, a district-wide model that establishes common behavior expectations and includes an incentive system for which students earn tickets when they are “caught” being good. The school also has regular assemblies focused on good character traits, and the Buddy Bench is the perfect example of students embodying those traits.

“I just think it’s so cool that it was our girls who came up with the idea, that they thought it would be great if we could help other kids out,” Veitch said.

Caledonia Elementary School Principal Joshua Traugher said he has already seen students using the bench for its purpose when a group of students invited a first-grader sitting on the bench to play.

“It was precious to see a groupof students reach out to another,” he said. “Ultimately, this is what I hope continues to play out.”

Dutton Elementary Scouts created a video for a Sept. 23 school assembly about how to use the Buddy Bench.

They said they plan to lead the effort if they see someone on the bench.

“Ask them if they want a friend,” Kloe Kimbrell said.

CONNECT

The Story Behind the Buddy Bench

Tiny Girl Big Dream

Scouts assemble the bench

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is associate managing editor and reporter, covering Byron Center, Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids Community College. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013 and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio

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