Buddy Benches

Alumni from the Hermiston High School Class of 1999 assemble a Buddy Bench at Rocky Heights Elementary School.

HERMISTON — When the recess bells ring later this month, elementary school students will have a place to go if they find themselves without a playmate thanks to recent the installation of 10 benches across Hermiston School District’s elementary school playgrounds.

These aren’t just ordinary benches. They’re Buddy Benches — or “friendship benches” — which are meant to be a safe space for students to sit when they’re lonely or having a bad day. Other students can visit the bench and invite kids to chat and play.

“The Buddy Benches create a beautiful opportunity for students to be kind, to see someone who doesn’t have a friend to play with, who may be having a bad day,” said Melissa Purswell, who teaches sixth grade at Armand Larive Middle School.

Purswell, who also heads Armand Larive’s Kindness Club, secured grant funding from the Hermiston Education Foundation for Buddy Benches last year.

After meeting with principals at the elementary schools, Purswell said it was decided that each of the five schools should have two benches — one for their smaller and one for their main playground. Purswell found herself five benches short of this goal.

That’s when members of the Hermiston High School class of 1999, who celebrated their 20-year reunion last weekend, stepped in.

Cody Hawes, a 1999 alumnus who now lives in Utah, caught wind of Purswell’s plan to get Buddy Benches to Hermiston’s schools.

“We have Buddy Benches in Utah, and they’re really helpful for limiting bullying,” Hawes said.

He, in partnership with other class of 1999 alumni, started a GoFundMe campaign, which raised more than $1,200 in three days.

Most of the donations, Hawes said, came from the group of former Hermiston High School graduates.

A crew of seven alumni, along with Purswell and her son, installed the benches Saturday. Purswell said Armand Larive’s Kindness Club will be making an informational video for students about how to use them.

“It’s our job as adults to not only create opportunities for our students to practice kindness in action but to model it. I can’t wait for the students to use these benches,” she said.

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