When is a bench so much more than a bench? When does a bench have the power to connect people of all ages and experiences and create a community of upstanders? When it is a Buddy Bench built by at-risk youth from Rushford Academy in Durham. Thanks to 34 individual donors and the countless contributors to two Funds at the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, the residential teen students are learning positive life skills and giving back to their community. The students at Rushford Academy are building wooden benches for local schools to use as a social inclusion tool. The benches are clearly labeled “Buddy Bench” and strategies for use are provided to school staff and students with each installation.
The initial idea for the bench building project came from a Rushford Academy resident supervisor’s desire to engage the young men recovering from substance abuse. He was looking for an interactive activity that would foster teamwork, commitment, and useable skills. The “Buddy Bench” project was the perfect opportunity – adding purpose and a community service benefit to the young men’s efforts and providing a conduit for grade school children to “buddy up” with those who may be feeling isolated during recess or other free play activity times. All that was missing was the money to cover the cost of materials. Through a grant application to CFMC’s At-Risk Boys Fund, the project came to the attention of the Community Foundation. CFMC’s Council of Business Partners Fund, a group of local business owners supporting positive youth development programs throughout the year, immediately agreed that the project met both Funds’ missions, and the residential teens at Rushford Academy received a grant to produce the first four buddy benches. With one bench in production, the project took on new life and funding expanded to include benches for all elementary schools attending last year’s Rally For Bully-Free Communities, an annual event organized by the CFMC Council of Business Partners.
After the first Buddy Bench installation at Spencer Elementary School in October, interest and support for the program grew exponentially, with individual Community Foundation donors stepping up to fund enough Buddy Benches to cover all elementary and lower-middle schools in Middlesex County and beyond. To date, donor funded benches have been presented to Deep River Elementary School and The Country School in Madison. The increased production demand also created a need for more supervisors and mentors to work with the Rushford Academy students. At-risk men from Rushford’s Stonehaven program answered the call and are now volunteering their time as part of their recovery and community service work, underscoring the concept of “Buddying Up for Positive Change.”
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