Take a seat to help somebody

Published 8:53 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2018

School isn’t easy, especially as a little kid. You’re thrown into an environment where you slowly and painfully figure out how to behave and who you want to be. The process is messy, confusing and almost always involves scrutiny and bullying from peers that are often just as bothered as you are, if not more.

But the hardest part for a lonely child is saying anything about it at all. This is where a Buddy Bench may become a way out for those that don’t have the words yet.

The Suffolk Education Foundation installed Buddy Benches at nearly all Suffolk elementary schools. Board members ran with the idea to honor their colleague Ernest “Ernie” Leber, who died by suicide in July 2015. The bench at Oakland Elementary School is dedicated in Leber’s name.

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They wanted to honor him by giving lonely children the opportunity to take a seat instead of a stand. A child who is feeling lonely can sit on the bench, without saying a word. Other students will see their peer and hopefully take a seat with him or her to talk about what’s on their mind.

There’s no telling how many students have been helped by these benches, or how many have seen someone and made the effort to lend an ear. But if just two students have managed to connect through one of these benches, then the whole enterprise is a triumph.

These helpful benches have history far and wide. In Zimbabwe, “friendship benches” are used by grandmothers for therapy, and buddy benches can be found in schools throughout Germany.

It was from a German brochure that Christian Bucks first heard about the benches in 2013. He was in the first grade at Roundtown Elementary School in York County, Pa., when he thought he was going to move to Germany for his dad’s new job.

He never did move to Germany, but he did convince his principal to have a buddy bench installed on his school playground. News outlets picked up the story and it spread like wildfire. More schools got their own benches, and students from across the country wrote ‘thanks’ to Christian.

Why did Christian feel compelled to do this?

“I didn’t like to see kids lonely at recess when everyone is just playing with their friends,” he said in a phone interview with the Washington Post in 2016.

It just takes two. One child to seize the opportunity to share their pain and take a seat on one of these colorful benches. Another to see a peer in need and take the time to talk. That’s all it takes, and the effects are profound.