Sometimes a school bench could be more than just a solution for tired feet. To the untrained eye, it is a lonesome artifact in the middle of an elementary school yard, scarcely eliciting a second look. But why not use a bench to encourage friendships, understanding, and kindness? That’s how an idea originated with the Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) of West Heights Elementary School located in Mission, British Columbia. The right bench could be a wonderful way to encourage kids to sit and rest; discuss their difficulties; resolve conflicts; promote school spirit; and banish loneliness. PAC Vice-President, Kathleen Johnson Tatham, together with another PAC member, Ilona Schmidt, began canvassing the community for ideas and assistance.
Word of the plan spread far and wide, with other schools expressing great interest in the project. In addition to West Heights Elementary School, Ms. Schmidt heard positive feedback from other schools in the area including Deroche Elementary School (Deroche, British Columbia) and Dewdney Elementary School (Dewdney, British Columbia). All liked the concept and wanted to participate.
Soon, other partners came on board. The owners of Wilderness Tree Farm in the Fraser Valley, Pete Handler and Cyndi Heppner, were kind enough to donate free wood for the construction of the benches. School Trustees Jim Taylor and Tracy Loffler encouraged the project to continue at the local level. And Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) members at Mission Medium-Minimum Institution supported the idea as previous community projects had involved inmates from the facility. Gary Allen, a social programs officer, became the point-person at Mission Minimum for the project.
Continual support from the Correctional Service of Canada (CSC) steadily moved the project along. Mission Institution provided shop equipment where inmates volunteered to lend a hand and build the benches. Lloyd Rash and Bill Dickson, members of the Rotary Club of Mission provided additional expertise and networking.
Wood was finally delivered to Mission Minimum and to Mr. Dickson’s garage in November of 2016, and needed a long time to dry due to a harsh winter. Although it took some time for the project to come together, the hard work by all involved was certainly worth it. The successful collaboration of individuals and organizations is a testament to how well a community can come together to make a positive, lasting impact. After all, there’s a reason the motto of West Heights Elementary School is "Everyone's best builds success."
The “Buddy benches” project is a collaborative partnership between all mentioned above. This is the fourth such project to be done over the last several years. Previous projects included the construction of hundreds of birdhouses for the Mission wetlands, picnic tables for a local school, and planters for Mission Hospice.