The kindergartener sat on the very edge of the bench, tugging at the end of his t-shirt. His feet did not touch the ground.
“If you see someone sitting on the Buddy Bench, that’s a signal to you that someone needs a friend that day,” Laurie Italia told the group of Riley Avenue students sitting on the floor of the cafeteria. “What do you think you should do?”
A hand shot up at the back of the group, belonging to a small girl in a bright pink shirt. “You should go over to the bench and help him so he can have a friend,” she said.
When the girl walked to the front of the cafeteria and sat beside him, the boy visibly relaxed, as though he really had been sitting alone in the playground rather than volunteering before a group of his peers.
“Very good,” Italia said. “By going to the Buddy Bench, you’re showing kindness and passing friendship along, and that’s something that will make both of you very happy.”
Buddy Benches are being installed in elementary school playgrounds across the North Fork, thanks to the efforts of Kait’s Angels, a not-for-profit organization that sponsors services and programs for young people in the local community.
The benches are meant to provide a safe space for students who are feeling lonely or bullied. Children often have difficulty articulating feelings of loneliness or sadness, so the simple act of sitting on a bench provides them with a way to express these feelings to other students and teachers without having to verbalize them.
A first grader from Pennsylvania came up with the idea in 2013, and over the past two years, Buddy Benches have been popping up in playgrounds across the nation.
“Maybe your usual friends aren’t here to play with you, or maybe you’re just not getting along with your friends that day,” Italia told the Riley Avenue students. “Those are all great reasons to sit on the Buddy Bench.”
Kait’s Angels was founded in memory of a Mattituck High School graduate who was struck and killed by a vehicle while away at college in August 2014. She was only 20 years old when she died, but Kaitlyn Doorhy’s parents have dedicated themselves to ensuring that her memory will live on through the charitable acts of the organization they created in her name.
One of their first projects was to purchase and install Buddy Benches in elementary schools throughout the North Fork. Aquebogue, Southold, Oysterponds, New Suffolk and Cutchogue already have benches, thanks to Kait’s Angels.
The response, says Kait’s mother, has been “overwhelming.”
“We’ve gotten letters from all the schools where we’ve donated the benches,” Darla Doorhy said at the Riley Avenue ceremony today. “They’re just thrilled with them. Kait really loved children. By doing this, she touches a lot of lives.”
The next bench will be installed at an Eastport South Manor elementary school, Doorhy said.
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