Did you ever feel lonely or anxious at school? Then you know much how it hurts.
Now our students are doing something about it by building Buddy Benches for local schools. 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 2nd-grader who wanted to end loneliness on his school playground.
When Pam Pitchford read about the benches in a magazine, she knew she had to bring them to Elk Hill. As regional coordinator for our Greater Richmond community-based mental and behavioral health services, she saw right away what a positive difference they could make for our kids.
Pam Pitchford joins Principal Russ Macomber on George Watkins Elementary's new Buddy Bench![/caption]
These feelings are especially painful for the children Pam works with. Our Therapeutic Day Treatment program partners with 25 local schools to support over 100 children experiencing severe emotional, social, or behavioral problems. These problems cause grades to suffer - but they hurt relationships, too.
Our children don't play well with others. For some, it's crippling anxiety. Others may struggle with emotional regulation, or lack the social skills to understand that friends prefer choices to commands and need personal space to feel comfortable.
The bottom line is a lot of time spent feeling alone, alienated, and hurt - without knowing what to do about it. Buddy Benches are the perfect tool to help our clients change that.
Our benches are a little bit different. First, they're handmade by students. Pam approached Israel Melendez, vocational instructor at our Varina School to see if his students could build the benches as part of the career and technical education classes in our workforce development program.
Then, we install them at one of our partner schools to spread friendship and inclusion! Pam approached principals of some local schools where children receive community-based therapy from Elk Hill caseworkers to see if they would like a buddy bench for their building.
The benches go way beyond benefiting Elk Hill's clients alone. "They teach kindness too," says Pam. "Other kids know that a student sitting on this bench is looking for someone to play with, and they have an opportunity to step up and be that person."
So far, Buddy Benches have been built and donated to two local elementary schools: George Watkins Elementary School in New Kent and St. Andrews Episcopal School in Richmond. Watkins Elementary is so pleased with their benches they have already ordered two more! St. Andrews did them one better and made Mrs. Dillard-Dula a cake!