AWS installing buddy benches at area schools

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In honor of its 10th anniversary and the retirement of several longstanding board members, the AWS Foundation has decided to install 10 buddy benches at area schools.

“We were searching to try to come up with a way of recognizing retiring board members who were crucial in founding our foundation,” AWS CEO Patty Hays said. “Instead of giving them a plaque, we identified locations to put one of these…at area schools.”

The benches will not only serve to help students who need help finding a friend, but also provide a work of art as they will be decorated by local artists.

Board members selected the artist and school receiving the buddy bench, Hays said. For example, she selected local artist Vicki Junk-Wright, who had done portraits of Hays’ children when they were younger.

“I love how she gets people engaged with her artwork,” Hays said of Junk-Wright.

Hays also selected Fairfield Elementary School to receive the bench in her honor, adding that she was formerly employed at the school and had done volunteer work there.

“Other schools [selected] were ones we know had connection with our mission or [were selected] just to spread [the benches] out around northeast Indiana,” Hays said.

Other buddy bench locations and artists include:

Forest Park Elementary School (Fort Wayne) – artist Justin Johnson in memory of Ian Rolland

Memorial Park Elementary School (Fort Wayne) – artist John Leavell in honor of Ben Eisbart

Haley Elementary School (Fort Wayne) – artist Alex Hall in honor of Andy Brooks

Little Turtle Elementary School (Fort Wayne) – artist Dan Dienelt

Holland Elementary School (Fort Wayne) – artist Julie Wall

Heritage Elementary School (Monroeville) – artist Jerrod Tobias

McKenney Harrison Elementary School (Auburn) – artists Jody Nix, Mackenzie Lepper, Brittney Renninger and Erica Garcia

Adams Central Elementary School (Monroe) – artist Jon Detweiler

Bluffton-Harrison Elementary School (Bluffton) – artist Frank Louis Allen

The buddy benches should be installed in the schools in the next month or two, Hays said.

In the case of Haley Elementary, where third-grader Samantha Vance is collecting plastic caps to create her own buddy benches for the school, the bench from AWS will sit in front of the school in a more protected area while the plastic benches will sit on the playground, Samantha’s mom, Heidi Vance, said.

Vance said her daughter and AWS approached the school at about the same time.

“It was a complete coincidence,” she said.

As the process has gone along a few others schools have added their own buddy benches as well, Hays said.

Once benches from AWS are installed, students will receive training to help them understand what the benches are all about, Hays said.

“When a child feels lonely, they sit on the buddy bench to let others know they want someone to play with,” Hays said in a statement. “Fellow students playing in the area see someone on the bench and know to ask them to play. It’s an easy way for kids to connect and make friends.”