Looking for a friend? Sit on a Buddy Bench and meet someone

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  • Pictured from left to right are: Narius Caesar, Dylan Beers, two Pine Tree contest winners, Pablo Quinones and Even Beers.

  • Provided photosPablo Quinones shares a seat with Sapphire Elementary School Principal Karen Brock.

  • From left to right are Dylan Beers, Narius Caesar, Smith Clove Assistant Principal Christine Ricker and Pablo Quinones.

By Christine Urio

— The beginning of the school year is always a whirlwind of excitement and apprehension: Will I like my teacher? Will there be a lot of homework? Will I make friends?

As students continue to address these questions, Pablo Quinones of Highland Mills, a 10th grader at Monroe-Woodbury High School, has been working to address this last question with his Buddy Benches project.

“The Buddy Bench is a place in the school playground where kids can go if they need a friend,” he said. “When someone feels lonely or sad and needs a friend, he will sit on the bench. Others on the playground will see someone who needs help and reach out to him.”

While these benches can foster friendships, they ultimately teach empathy and inclusion, and have children feel comfortable asking for help when they need it.

“They are located in the play areas of the schools,” Quinones said. “I would have hoped to have them in all the play areas of the elementary schools, but presently they are only present in the main play areas.”

Brothers InDeedInspired by a friend from Ohio who shared a story of how her daughter benefited from having a bench at her school, Quinones wanted kids in the Monroe-Woodbury area to also benefit from Buddy Benches.

“I truly believe in giving back to one’s community and I wanted to find something my male friends would volunteer for, and I knew that if I followed through with these benches they would line up—who would pass up on the opportunity to use tools, build structures, and give back to the schools in our district?” he said. “I presented it to Dylan Beers, Evan Beers, and Narius Caesar, who are members of my organization, Brothers InDeed, and they reacted exactly how I thought they would, jumping at the chance to give back to our schools.”

Quinones raised money for Buddy Benches by getting a sponsorship from Home Depot which donated all the materials for free.

Goal: A bench in every elementary school in the countyHe hopes to promote his idea through social media and by videotaping assemblies.

“We would love to see a bench in every elementary school throughout Orange County and beyond,” he said.

In order to teach children how Buddy Benches work, there have been assemblies at school showing students how to use them.

“The administration in the schools love the idea and are behind it 100 percent,” Quinones said. “The kids also love the idea, and are enthusiastic and intrigued. When asked to role-play, they instinctively know the right things to say and do, and some of the schools also had contests in which the kids designed the artwork for the benches.”

This project not only builds a sense of community, but is also an opportunity for students to give back to the school, which in turn, helps mold them.

“It’s a way of saying ‘thanks’ and having a part of you at the schools,” Quinones said. “It’s amazing to see kids utilizing and benefitting from something you’ve taken the time to build—it makes you want to do more.”

From this experience, Quinones has learned the enjoyment behind working with others towards a common goal of making the community better.

“It’s so much fun working to help your community with friends,” he said. “People are always looking to give back; you just have to find the right project.”

Essential informationQuinones said he’s always looking for new members.

Those who are looking for a fun project to do while gaining volunteer hours should contact him via Facebook at message at https://www.facebook.com/Brothers-InDeed or call 845 641-4268.

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