For some kids (and many adults), making new friends can be a daunting task. After all, getting over that initial awkwardness and putting yourself out there isn’t always easy.
Fortunately though, there are amazing kids out there like 9-year-old Sammie Vance, who recently found a creative way to fund and create “Buddy Benches” — a safe place for a child to sit down if they want to make friends.
While Buddy Benches aren’t exactly new, they’re still pretty rare in most communities. Sammie’s mother, Heidi Vance, tells Babble that her daughter first heard of the idea while attending Vacation Bible School, and immediately came home to tell her mom all about it.
“If someone is lonely they can go sit on the bench and others know to go up and ask them to play,” the 9-year-old shared.
The benches offer a concrete way for kids to notice when someone is feeling lonely. But they can also be a safe place for a child to go if they’re being bullied, and want to alert teachers to a problem.
Vance says that her daughter “doesn’t want anyone to feel alone and at times would have used it herself.” So, when Sammie told her mom that she wanted to create a Buddy Bench for her school, the two began brainstorming a way to make it happen.
Heidi Vance had heard of a company that turns recycled plastic caps and lids into benches and thought that would be the perfect way to fund the project. And considering a new bench would cost around $900, whereas a recycled one runs about $250, it was a no-brainer.
After meeting with her school’s principal, who approved the initiative, Sammie created a comic explaining the idea of the Buddy Bench, along with a video that her mother then posted to Facebook. That effort, along with help from her school’s PTA, members of the community, and three segments on the local news all helped this motivated mother-daughter duo to gather over 1,600 lbs. of bottle caps!
They even collected a cap from all 50 states, as well as caps from Africa, Israel, Germany, and the Netherlands. Vance notes that the pair also received “many wonderful letters” of support for their project.
In the end, they’d collected enough plastic to create three benches for Sammie’s school (including one that’s since been engraved “Sammie’s Buddy Bench”). The Vances have also helped out three other local schools who’ve wanted to install their own Buddy Benches after hearing about the project.
“Since then a school up north collected for their school after hearing about what Sammie did and we have four more schools nearby currently collecting for ‘Buddy Benches!'” Vance tells Babble, adding that, “Sammie would love to see ‘Buddy Benches’ on every playground!”
According to Sammie, the benches are being utilized and kids are thanking her often for having them in place. Vance tells Babble that her daughter has handled the entire situation with “such a humble grace.”
“Sammie has a real heart for all people young and old,” the proud mom says. “We have loved how this has brought now not only a community together but the country in a way. There is so much that can be accomplished from someone small with a big heart.”
She is absolutely right! There is much that we can learn from children, who often have the very best ideas for bringing people together.
Let’s hope that this brilliant idea continues to catch on and that Sammie’s dream of having a “Buddy Bench” at every playground will one day be realized. She’s a shining example of how one person, no matter their stature, can be a positive influence for good and make a real difference in our world.