Third graders create Buddy Benches at Baldwin-Whitehall elementary schools
When Jack Parkin discovered his friend couldn't afford to buy a toy, he asked his dad if the two could start a Lego club so everyone would have the opportunity to play with the building blocks.
Jack, 8, a third-grader at Whitehall Elementary School, said he saw the difference the club made and wanted to do more.
He asked his dad what he could do to at his school that would help more people.
“I want to make an impact on the world now,” he said.
His dad told him about the Buddy Bench program, where benches are installed in places like the recess area at school, and a lonely child sits when they want someone to come play with them.
Jack jumped at the idea of bringing the program to his school.
He researched the program, then found a group of friends who would implement the program at Whitehall Elementary.
Over a Friday night meeting of chips and pretzels, Jack and his buddies Ethan Green, Savannah Kaduck and Gianna Harkins formed a plan for how they would build the benches, what material they would use and where they would put them at school.
Mom and dad stayed back and let the kids take the lead.
Savannah headed to a local Lowe's home improvement store — with mom and dad at her side — and sought donations for the project.
The store donated nearly all of the supplies needed for the four benches.
At another Friday night get together, the third-graders began to build the benches themselves, painting and hammering them together.
They agreed that two benches would go in the recess areas at Whitehall Elementary and two at McAnnulty Elementary, where Jack's sister Kaylee, 6, is a first-grader. The buddy benches were installed at Whitehall Elementary on Oct. 10.
Whitehall Elementary Principal Jennifer Marsteller said she was excited about the idea.
The school this year implemented a Positive Behavior Intervention System focusing on caring and compassion for others.
“This buddy bench really fit into it,” she said. “It's the idea that it's helping somebody else and it's not wrong to be lonely. It's OK to not have somebody to play with. I'm going to go sit on the buddy bench and I'm not going to be lonely very long because everybody cares about me.”
The students are creating a commercial and plan to visit each classroom in their school to show how the benches are supposed to be used.
If no one uses them at first, Jack said he even plans to sit on them to show students its OK to sit there when you need a friend.
He hopes that one day when a child's best friend is absent, they use the bench to make new friends.
“It's like when you have no one to play with or when you're lonely, you go sit on it and someone else will come over and say, ‘Is it OK if I play with you?” Jack said.
Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.