‘A friend is only a seat away’ at Harrisonville Elementary

kschwers@kcstar.comApril 20, 2017 

Gabrielle Vaughn doesn’t want anyone to be alone.

That’s why the 9-year-old pitched the idea of bringing a “buddy bench” to her school. The bench is a safe place for students looking for a friend.

Vaughn, a third-grade student, says she has several friends at Harrisonville Elementary School. When she sees another student alone, she says she feels bad, but that doesn’t stop her from asking them if they’d like to join her in a game or to play outside.

When Vaughn heard about the concept of buddy benches last year from another young girl at her church, she shared the idea with her school counselor, who brought to the Harrisonville Bright Futures Council for consideration. They liked the idea, and with some funding help from the council, Cass County Health Department and Stafford & Stafford Insurance, the young girl’s idea came to fruition. After a year, Vaughn says she’s pleased to see that the bench is finally on campus.

“I thought that we needed that at our school,” Vaughn said at Harrisonville Elementary last week. “A lot of kids don’t have anybody to play with. I’ve noticed some kids just walking alone, and I was pretty sad about that because I think everybody should have a friend.”

It’s not hard to miss. Vaughn’s bench is shiny and blue with a stenciled message.

“A friend is only a seat away,” is the message she wants everyone to hear.

Vaughn says her mother came up with phrase while the third-grader helped design it the bench.

“I’ve seen other kids use it and it’s pretty fast how another kid just shoots over there,” Vaughn said. “If somebody doesn’t have anyone to play with, they can just sit on the bench, and then somebody else can invite them to play or walk and talk.”

Other area schools have embraced the concept of buddy benches in recent years. A year ago, Our Lady of the Presentation School’s parent-teacher organization re-purposed a buddy bench for its students in Lee’s Summit.

Last August, a freshman at Lee’s Summit West High School helped bring a new bench as part of a service project to his former elementary school, Cedar Creek.

Like Vaughn’s bench in Harrisonville, the bench is placed next to the school’s playground equipment. It arrived at the elementary school in March, and cost $876.71 to construct and place on school grounds, the Harrisonville School District said.

Shelly Vaughn, Vaughn’s grandmother, was with her granddaughter on April 10 when a member of the Bright Futures Council awarded the third-grader with a certificate, naming her “Student Ambassador of the Month.”

“I think seeing the concept come to life and the sponsorship that is put behind it in this community has been awesome as far as paying for it and getting it established,” Shelly Vaughn said. “You can come up with the idea, but the money has to come from somewhere, too.”

Next school year, the 9-year-old will be moving on to McEowen Elementary School for fourth-grade, but she hopes to visit the buddy bench again in the future. Vaughn hopes maybe someday, more schools will start their own buddy benches.

“It was pretty cool to see how that bench came out and see what it looked like,” Vaughn said. “It’s cool to know that people are going to have a friend now.”

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