By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — “During the first week of school, a new student sat on the bench because they could not find anyone to play with. As a duty teacher, I went to her and asked if she needed help finding a friend or solving a problem with a friend. She shared she needed someone to play with. Two students playing nearby heard our conversation and invited her to play. She is now making friends at her new school thanks to the Buddy Bench,” said Renee Binder, relaying a story shared with her.
The above story, which occurred at local elementary school, is just what members of the 2016 Leadership Marshfield class had in mind when they initiated the Buddy Bench project.
Project members Binder, Miranda Gregory, Wendi Brueggen, Kristin Weiler, Charles Wendlandt, and Jason King, working in conjunction with the Marshfield Area United Way, school guidance counselors and facility departments, the Marshfield Parks and Recreation Department, and Lee Recreation, created an avenue for building friendships on the grounds of area schools.
“The goal of the Buddy Bench project is to proactively make a difference in local elementary schools by installing a Buddy Bench on each playground,” said Binder. “The mission of the Buddy Bench is to eliminate loneliness and foster friendship on playgrounds. The bench ensures all elementary school students feel included and have a safe place to go.
“We got the idea from our group member Miranda, who had heard of it implemented in other school districts. After discussing with the group, we all thought this was something that the Marshfield School District should have.
“According to the 2015 Marshfield Youth Risk Behavior Survey, ‘Twenty percent of children’s lives in our community have been affected by feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Thirteen percent of children have considered harming themselves due to those feelings.’”
To raise money for the benches, the group sent sponsorship letters to local businesses.
“We raised enough money to purchase 15 benches,” recalled Binder. “This amount allowed us to not only supply benches to the public and private elementary schools in Marshfield but also Spencer, Auburndale, Pittsville, Loyal, and Stratford.
“The school district’s guidance counselors assisted in guiding the development of the curriculum used in schools to educate about the purpose of the Buddy Bench, Marshfield Park and Rec assisted us in determining which bench to pick, and the United Way assisted us with accounting for the funds raised.”