‘Buddy Benches’ coming to Wicomico elementaries

Oh, the power of a wooden bench, especially when it has a grand purpose.

And Buddy Benches certainly do.

Placed in playgrounds at elementary schools, they are a retreat for children who need somebody to play with. When another child sees a little one sitting, his mission is go over and invite him to join in recess games.

The idea of a Pennsylvania first-grader, Buddy Benches will soon be installed in playgrounds in Wicomico County elementary schools including Beaver Run, Chipman, Fruitland, Willards and Delmar.

“They’re in the process of being placed,” said Grace Foxwell Murdock.

Affectionately known as The Kindness Lady, she is paying for the benches with proceeds from the kindness bracelets she makes and sells, plus money from big-hearted donors.

“I hope to be at some of those schools when they install the benches. The student body and staff are well informed about the use and the purpose. In its simplest form, the purpose is that children sit on the benches when they don’t have anyone to play with. That’s how it’s presented to the child. ‘If you’re lonely, have a seat.’ Anybody that sees them sitting there will go over there,” she said.

On a deeper level, they foster inclusion while addressing loneliness. “I want everyone to feel included, to feel that they matter, that they are seen. Isolation is what leads to problems,” Murdock said.

Tracy Sahler, who handles public relations for county schools, told the Salisbury Independent the benches are built and awaiting signage. Later this week, she said, “we will get a group together to take one big group shot of all the benches and the people involved.”

“The plan is to install the benches before the end of the school year,” she said.

Each bench costs $160 and Murdock will present a check to the schools for materials. Woodshop students built them and identifying signs will be attached to each. An informational packet will be included with each bench.

“I have had some private donors who have provided funds for the benches and I have donors in the wings who are waiting to provide benches for the schools where they want them, where they have grandchildren. It’s a very big interest project for the community. They followed it through my kindness bracelets,” Murdock said.

Eventually, she would like to see a bench at every elementary school in the county, she said, crediting young Christian Bucks of York, Pa., the founder. In 2013, the boy thought his family was moving to Germany for his father’s job and saw a picture of a bench there. He thought it would work well at his school in Pennsylvania.

“His principal jumped on the idea,” Murdock said.

Christian, according to the Web site buddybench.org, “thought it would be a really great thing to have on the playground at his current school, Roundtown Elementary.”

“He knew that there were some kids who felt lonely at recess and he thought this would put an end to that. He told his teacher and his principal about it and they thought it was a great idea. Since it was the end of the school year, the principal said he would look into it over the summer and they would get it in place in the fall,” according to the Web site.

Christian and his family didn’t move to Germany after all, and Christian was thrilled when his principal helped him choose the bench and the colors.

The local newspaper published an article and it was picked up by the Huffington Post, then NBC and others, leading to Christian hearing from students and adults across the country who “love this idea and want to do the same thing at their schools.”

Murdock cherishes that story and wants to see the benches benefit all children in Wicomico County.

“My main objective was for the kids to pass through the entire school system, then to come and see those benches and say ‘I did that,’” she said.

“They can see their production touching kids at younger ages and see how kindness travels.”

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