Haley student gathers caps for buddy benches

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Samantha Vance stands with a poster she made for Haley Elementary School’s back-to-school night to promote the buddy benches she is trying to get for the school.

Though only 8 years old, Samantha Vance, a student at Haley Elementary School, wanted to do something about loneliness she saw on the playground.

Her solution? A buddy bench.

“If somebody’s lonely they can sit on the buddy bench and somebody can come up to them and they can play together and make new friends,” she said. “I know a lot of people who are lonely and they don’t have really any friends and new people to the school they could use it and I would use it too.”

Samantha got the idea during vacation Bible school at Blackhawk Ministries.

“She came to me the night after VBS and told me, Mom, our school needs this, and then wanted to contact the principal and schedule a meeting,” Samantha’s mom, Heidi Vance, said.

Heidi Vance looked into some bench options and found a company in Evansville that could make a bench for a third of the price she had seen other places. The only caveat? They had to also collect 400 pounds of plastic caps for one 6-foot bench, approximately 10 55-gallon drums’ worth.

The Vances got to work spreading the word, posting the idea on Facebook and telling family and friends. Samantha even got to have a table at Haley’s back-to-school night and make an announcement once school began.

With that the word spread – and spread. Heidi Vance said the TinCaps have made announcements at their games, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo has been collecting caps and Fort4Fitness has allowed them to collect the caps from the water bottles of their runners.

They also have several local pharmacies, local businesses and even friends in places as far away as Africa collecting caps for them.

“Somebody called and said they had 60 pounds of caps and loved the cause,” Heidi said. “I think it’s the heart of a child, pure of heart, that just has a love for people and wants to include [others]. And that she’s actually doing something about it – instead of just talking about it she’s willing to actually do the work.”

In only five weeks’ time, the Vances had collected their 10 barrels worth of caps.

“It feels really good,” Samantha said of the response. “I thought it would take two weeks to even fill up one barrel.”

Because of their quick success, they set their sights higher: first to do a bench for each of the school’s two playgrounds, then to collect enough caps for a third bench for those waiting in the car line.

If they can collect enough for a fourth bench by the end of the month, Heidi Vance also mentioned possibly donating a bench to the new Riley Children’s Health office coming to Fort Wayne.

“Possibilities with this seem endless,” she wrote in an email.

In addition, the goal has always been to help other schools raise caps for buddy benches too, Heidi Vance said.

“We will see how much we can get through October [for these projects] and then direct to the other schools,” Heidi Vance wrote, naming Lincoln and St. Joseph Center elementary schools in particular. “Also I am hoping schools feel free to come to me and ask questions and suggestions as I feel we accomplished this in record time and would love to help others in the right direction. Sammie as well is willing to speak.”

Heidi Vance said to help accomplish this part of the goal, she will continue to run the Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project Facebook page and that Samantha will still be involved.

“People don’t want it to end,” Heidi Vance wrote. “The kids at school are so excited and proud when talking about the project. … It will be so great seeing those completed benches!”