Do you remember feeling lonely or anxious at school when you were a child? Then you know much how it hurts. Do you worry that your child is feeling left out and sad on the playground?
Elk Hill students are doing something about that by building Buddy Benches for local schools. Built by kids for kids, these special benches are designated places where students feeling lonely or shy can sit to signal they are looking for a friend. The idea was first dreamed up by a Pennsylvania second-grader who wanted to end loneliness on his school playground.
“When I read about the benches in a magazine, I knew I had to bring them to Elk Hill,” says Pam Pitchford, regional coordinator for Elk Hill’s Greater Richmond community-based mental and behavioral health services. “I saw right away what a positive difference they could make for our kids.” Elk Hills’ mission is to enable children and families to transform overwhelming challenges into successful futures. Through specialized education, community based services and residential treatment programs, children and families can discover the academic, vocational, behavioral, and relationship skills they need to be successful.
Elk hill has three alternative schools, one of which is in eastern Henrico County. At all three of the Elk Hill schools offer Education for Employment, a comprehensive workforce development program. This program includes a vocational component and carpentry is a skill that Varina Students have the opportunity to learn. The buddy benches were a natural fit into that program and our students started making benches last year. During that year, the students made and donated benches for St. Andrews School and George Watkins Elementary School playgrounds. The bench was such a success at Watkins Elementary that their PTO ordered another one.
This year, the students made a total of five benches, two went to an elementary school in Charlottesville, one was made and donated to the school’s annual Golf Tournament in May, and two others were requested by the New Kent Girl Scout group. The Girl Scout troop is doing a community service project to earn a badge and will be donating them to New Kent Elementary School. As part of this project, they are making a video that all students at that school will watch about the purpose of the Buddy Bench.
The benches go way beyond benefiting Elk Hill’s clients alone according to Pitchford, adding that the bench promotes empathy among students. “They teach kindness,” says Pam. “Other kids know that a student sitting on this bench is looking for someone to play with or talk to, and they have an opportunity to step up and be that person.”