Bully Busters spearhead 'buddy bench' project

Post date: Feb 23, 2020 6:51:09 AM

Reminder News

July 25, 2014


A new bright spot will appear in elementary schools throughout the Norwich area this fall, thanks to Bully Busters of Norwich. The youth organization is spearheading a project to build, paint and install "buddy benches" in area schools, as a safe haven for kids who need a little friendship and encouragement during the school day.

"The goals is having two benches per school," said Debbie Kievets, director of Bully Busters. "We're doing the greater Norwich area, all the sending schools" for Norwich Free Academy. Requests for the benches are coming from far afield for schools in Canterbury, Sprague and Voluntown, among others, she said.

Kievets said she envisions students using the benches as a way to reach out wordlessly for support when social situations at school get rough and "to promote simple acts of kindness." When a child sits on the bench, a classmate or friend can join them as a gesture of friendship and solidarity. The project, she said, will be worth it "if we get one kid to sit on these benches for five seconds and know that everything is going to be okay."

So far, a total of 37 benches have been built and painted with assistance from a wide range of community agencies and local artist volunteers, Kievets said. "A lot of groups are using them as team-building exercises. One group took one on a company picnic and painted it together," she said. "The exciting part of it is how many different artists have painted a bench. No two are going to be alike, just like kids. They're all different, unique and beautiful."

The kids and teen volunteers at Bully Busters' Summer Jam recreation program pitched in last week for the project, working with members of Rotary Community Corps to construct four benches at the program's meeting place at the Norwich Salvation Army. Two benches were destined for other painters; the remaining pair were painted that afternoon by the Summer Jam participants, with help from Tiki Herrick, a life skills educator from Access Agency who's also an artist.

Herrick spent some time guiding the group in planning how the benches would be painted. "I gave them blank benches on a piece of paper," she said. "We have a limited amount of paint, so we had to stretch things." One bench design depicted a "peace train," with a series of train cars and a message in the train's puff of smoke: "above all be kind". The other bench was initially intended to incorporate a cloud design, but some errant smudges turned the motif into a solid sky-blue.

"We couldn't be happier to be involved in this program," said Dino Tudisca, president of the Rotary Community Corps' Norwich branch. He said that the RCC provided the supplies, cut the lumber and helped the kids construct the benches. Organizers hope to complete 60 indoor benches and as many as 40 additional benches for outdoor settings, he said.

Groups or individuals who wish to either sponsor or paint a Buddy Bench are welcome to contact the Kievets at Norwich Bully Busters at dasunflower@hotmail.com. Online donations can be made at http://www.gofundme.org/8mzt88#.