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Fostering Friendship And Conservation, One BUDDY BENCH At A Time

Tania Ortega-Cowan

Later this spring, four Port Saint Lucie Schools – Morningside and Oak Hammock Elementary, West Gate K-8, and Ivy League Academy will each receive… a Buddy Bench!

A Buddy Bench is anti-bullying, AND keeps plastic out of the landfill!  It’s a brightly colored bench made from recycled plastic caps that’s also a ‘safe space’ - signaling when a child has a need, and teaches all of the children about the environment.

It’s been an enormous community effort, so we head to West Gate K-8 to meet with key Buddy Bench players from Keep Port Saint Lucie Beautiful, the Boys & Girls’ Clubs of Port Saint Lucie, The City of Port Saint Lucie, the Port Saint Lucie Police Department and the School itself.

GB: The kids are the ambassadors of this project.

That’s Georgette Beck, special projects coordinator for Keep Port St Lucie Beautiful.

She’s right, too. As soon as we arrive to set up in the school cafeteria, we are approached by a group of confident, friendly girls - members of the Boys & Girls Clubs.   

A: My name’s Alyssa and I’m in 4th grade.  If somebody sits on the bench that means they’re lonely. They might be bullied or something so they might just want to sit on the bench if they’re sad and they might want new friends. And so, if somebody sees that person sitting down, you might want to go sit down next to them and introduce yourself and you might become their friend, so they’re not lonely anymore.

It takes 200 pounds of plastic caps to make one bench…. so for a couple of months now, the kids have been collecting, sorting, weighing and bagging the caps that will soon become their new Buddy Bench!

KM: It’s really been a collective effort. Getting all the caps together; sorting them.

That’s Kayla Mitchell, Club Director for Boys & Girls Clubs of PSL. So It started off as a 3rd and 4th grade project.

KM: It expanded into all-Club, all-School, all-Neighborhood type of thing.

It all began when Georgette Beck was inspired by a young girl named Sammy who organized a similar project in her hometown in Michigan.

GB: and her heart was for the other kids – she never wanted a kid to be sad or lonely. And especially kids that were picked on. And on the environmental end, it was a win-win for Keep Port St Lucie Beautiful! Cause we’re about litter prevention – recycling. Beautifying communities. Engaging individuals to think of those things.

Collaborating with the Boys & Girls Clubs was a natural fit.

AL: We have mentoring programs where we talk to kids about self-confidence and bullying

That’s Anastasia Legakes, v.p. of operations. And Terrell Mongo, area director:

TM: The kids were really engaged – the buy-in was simple!

Quickly the city got involved… the police, the school district, Waste Pro... community businesses...

Here’s Richard Del Toro, PSL Police assistant chief:

RDT: The majority of the kids today – their generation – from what I’ve seen is very compassionate and caring for others and I think this is just really going to build upon that. I think the Buddy Bench project is awesome and that’s why we’re behind it 100%.

Here are Esther Guzman and Melissa Hutchings, assistant principals at Westgate.

They appreciate the environmental benefit of the Buddy Bench and…

EG: the awareness of students being able to look out for their classmates.

MH: We talked about how nice it would be to have more than one bench, you know! One for the smaller kids, and one for the older kids.

Each bench - from production to shipping - is costing between $700 - $900.

GB: I will have a firmer figure once the four schools get finished!

Sponsors for the first four benches are Keep Port St. Lucie Beautiful, City of PSL Neighborhood Services Department, Port St. Lucie Police Department, Sgt. Rick Shichtel and PAL.

This will be an ongoing project so new schools and sponsors who want to do it can just contact Keep Port Saint Lucie Beautiful to get started.