Miranda H. Lewis
Carter County Times
Sixteen hundred pounds is massive, but it’s hard to visualize just how massive. To give a bit of perspective, it’s equivalent to a mature Holstein and an adult polar bear. More than a manatee, moose and an American Crocodile. Around one fourth of the weight of a blue whale’s tongue.
That’s how much plastic schools across Carter County collected and recycled in just three months. But collecting brightly colored rubbish was just the first step.
Students across the district recycled 1,600 pounds of plastic by turning bottle caps into sixteen “Buddy Benches” designed to help children more easily find friends on the playground.
School personnel said it’s a project that allows students to learn more about environmental issues while also emphasizing the importance of inclusive play.
The colorful benches encourage kindness, compassion and the cultivation of new friendships.
While Carter County students are learning the importance of being a “buddy” to their peers with the installation of new Buddy Benches across the district, they have that opportunity because Cheyenne Hamilton was inspired to bring the initiative to life.
Through benches, she hopes to show her peers that they are not alone.
Hamilton, a junior at West Carter High School (WCHS) and an active member of Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA), pursued the project as her Students Taking Action with Recognition (STAR) project after discovering Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project.
In 2017, a then eight-year-old Sammie Vance dreamed of a special spot that kids could go to in an effort to eliminate loneliness by fostering friendships.
Vance and her family discovered GreenTree Plastics in Evansville, Indiana, a company that Hamilton would utilize as well, that turns recycled plastic caps and lids into benches.
“The Buddy Benches are placed at schools, specifically on playgrounds for children that feel lonely and need a buddy to sit with. The idea is that somebody will notice and come be their buddy,” shared Hamilton. “The benches are a good spot for them to hang out, while giving others a sign that ‘hey, I just kind of need somebody right now.’ Don’t we all need that sometimes?”
Hamilton explained that simply taking the action of sitting on one of the benches communicates the message that students need to connect with someone, whether it’s another student or an adult. The benches serve as another avenue for students to reach out, connect, and get their needs met.
“Buddy Benches create an opportunity for students to reach out to someone if they need help,” she added.
In order to collect plastic caps and lids, Hamilton said she contacted local schools.
“I reached out to Olive Hill Elementary (OHES), Tygart Creek Elementary (TCES), and Carter City Elementary (CCES). I educated students on the purpose of The Buddy Benches, I explained what they stand for as well as the importance of recycling,” said Hamilton.
“WCHS FCCLA members visited TCES and CCES and provided kindness lessons to each class in grades K-5,” said Paige McMillan, School Counselor TCES, CCES. “They informed the students about the Buddy Bench and how many plastic caps are needed to obtain a bench. Our students were beyond excited to obtain a buddy bench to help others in times of loneliness or if one needs a friend.”
The collection effort is best described as a labor of love Hamilton explained as she shared her sincere gratitude to teachers and students across Carter County.
“As a community, we were able to collect 1,600 pounds of bottle caps,” Hamilton said. “The bottle caps had to be sorted before we could send them to Indiana to create benches. With the help of many WCHS students, we were able to have all the bottle caps sorted and ready to head out in four days.”
Hamilton credited Karen and Jerry Jenkins for transporting all the recycled items to GreenTree Plastics and for delivering the benches back to WCHS upon completion.
“Each bench cost $300 and 100 pounds of bottle caps,” she explained.
Hamilton set her goal high, but in order to get the sixteen buddy benches she aspired to bring back to her community she needed to find sponsors to raise funds to help pay a remaining balance of $4,800.
Hamilton again acknowledged her community for showing up and showing out.
“Sponsors included Girl Scout Troop 5234, The Galaxy Project, Olive Hill Chamber of Commerce, American Legion Post 138 and Auxiliary, Carter City Academic Team, Archery and Special Education, Carter City PTO, and others that chose to remain anonymous,” recalled Hamilton.
“Every school in Carter County has now received at least one buddy bench,” said an accomplished Hamilton.
“It’s crucial for children at a young age to know the importance of showing kindness to each other. Having these Buddy Benches available gives them the ability to do just that—show kindness,” added McMillan.
“There are also nine memorial benches placed throughout the county, including Tom T. Hall at the Depot Welcome Center, Ben Jordan at West Carter Middle School, Teresa Moore at East Carter High School, Deegan Beane at the soccer field, Brent King at West Carter High School football field, Garrett Belcher at the Carter County Career and Technical Center, Jessie Ison at East Carter Middle School, and Pauline Sharon Buckler Conn at the City Park,” said Hamilton.
FCCLA hosts a State Leadership Conference every March, during which club members across the Commonwealth compete in STAR Events.
“The Buddy Bench Project was my STAR project for the 2023 State Conference,” described Hamilton.
Members that placed first and second place during the conference advanced to nationals, Hamilton placed second.
In July, she will travel to Denver, Colorado to present The Buddy Bench Project at the National Leadership Conference.
“I am so excited for this opportunity, I couldn’t have done it without my community and my FCCLA chapter,” exclaimed Hamilton.
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