Marissa Marek (left, in green) and Caroline White with the Buddy Bench

When students go back to school in August and the bell rings for recess at St. Patrick Catholic School in Lake Highlands, kids uncertain about making new friends will have a new tool – the Buddy Bench.

Sixth graders Caroline White and Marissa Marek wanted to combat bullying and foster friendships, even between the shyest of their classmates. They began a campaign to purchase the designated bench, where any child feeling lonely may sit to signal they’re ready to play or talk.

“Kids should be happy on the playground, not sad,” says White. “This bench helps kids who feel left out. It’s hard to tell someone that you feel left out, but when a kid sits on the bench it shows the others how that kid feels. It tells the other kids that they need a buddy on the playground. It is like a secret message.”

Funds for the bench were raised by accepting donations for lemonade and bottled water at the Exchange Club of Lake Highlands’ July 4 parade a year ago. SPS parents and friends also contributed, and the school added to the total and handled installation just as school was ending in May.

“We saw kids sitting on the bench, and it worked,” says Marek. “We saw other students and teachers go to the bench and talk to the kids who were sad and needed a friend. It cheered them up.”

The girls say the lessons they’ve learned could never be discovered in a textbook.

“Don’t give up,” says White. “Keep trying and stick to it. It took us almost 2 years to see the bench on the playground.”

“I learned I can help others in bigger way than just smaller acts of kindness,” agrees Marek. “Students who don’t even know us can feel the kindness we shared with our school.”

Marissa and Caroline with customers at their lemonade stand

Caroline, Marissa and friends sell lemonade