Building bonds with benches

Ambassador Girl Scout Annalynn Randall sits on a buddy bench Friday at Franklin Elementary School in Pullman. Geoff Crimmins Daily News

It can be challenging for young children to learn how to make friends, so a local Girl Scout and recent Pullman High School graduate decided to give students at every elementary school in Pullman a tool to help their friendships blossom.

Annalynn Randall recently won the Gold Star, the highest award a Girl Scout can receive, for bringing “Buddy Benches” to Franklin, Jefferson, Sunnyside and Kamiakin elementary schools.

Its function is simple. A student who may be feeling lonely can sit on the outdoor bench during recess and the other children on the playground are then encouraged to invite that student to play with them.

Randall said it is important for the children to know there is a support system for them if they are feeling shy in a new environment.

“I want the kids to feel safe and welcome,” she said.

The bench at Franklin has been there for a year, and the other benches have been at their respective schools since late last summer.

Randall said, according to parents, teachers and principals, the project has been a success. She has also received feedback through surveys she gave the children and from her own observations. Maybe the best feedback, she said, came when a young girl gave her a hug and thanked her for the bench.

Undertaking a project to earn the Gold Star award is not required of Girl Scouts, she said, but it is highly encouraged and is an opportunity for Girl Scouts to make a difference in their community.

“The Gold Award really makes you focus on seeing a need and changing that,” she said.

Randall moved to Pullman from Texas in fifth grade. She understands how difficult it can be for young children to make friends in a new environment.

So when another troop leader told Randall’s mother about Buddy Benches, which are found at schools across the country, Randall decided she wanted to pursue that for her project.

She said thanks to a “miracle of all miracles,” a local Eagle Scout was building benches for his project and agreed to help her.

Randall secured funding from the schools’ parent teacher associations and the Pullman Education Association to pay for the benches. She also created an instructional video she presented at the schools to show students what Buddy Benches are for and how to use them.

She even had children act out a scene on the bench to illustrate its purpose.

Randall said that while it can be scary for students to admit to themselves and others they are lonely, she reassured them it is OK to take baby steps.

If children are too scared to sit on the bench, then try again the next day. If they are too nervous to sit on the bench for more than two minutes, then try for five minutes tomorrow.

Randall said pursuing the Buddy Benches has helped her prepare for the real world because it reaffirms the value doing something not for individual reasons, but for the good of others.

“It’s not about me,” she said. “It’s about the kids.”

That same empathy is what is motivating her to attend Walla Walla Community College in the fall to study nursing, a profession that also requires kindness and the willingness to help others.

It’s the same thing that made her want to remain a Girl Scout for 12 years.

“I wanted to make people smile,” she said.

Anthony Kuipers can be reached at (208) 883-4640, or by email at akuipers@dnews.com.

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