For Sammie Vance, change begins in small steps—sometimes as small as a single bottle cap. At least that’s what the nine-year-old from Indiana is collecting to help her fellow classmates who may be feeling left out. Meet the “buddy bench”: a safe space where anyone who is feeling lonely can take a seat, signaling to others that they’re in need of a friendly face or someone to play with.
The best part? These benches aren’t just helping her community, but they’re keeping hundreds of pounds of plastic out of the oceans. (Talk about a star student!)
She first heard about the idea of buddy benches last summer during camp, and she was instantly inspired to start the project in her own school yard at Haley Elementary. “She told me, ‘My school needs this! I’ve been lonely before, so other kids may be lonely too’,” her mom, Heidi, tells us. The two drafted up a plan—Sammie created a comic strip explaining the idea—to pitch it to the school principal who was happy to jump on board.
Building a new bench, however, can cost up to $900. So, when Heidi found a company that turned recycled plastic bottle caps into benches for just $250, the decision was a clear, economical, and sustainable one.
“We needed 400 pounds of the plastic for one bench,” says Heidi. “So we thought we’d try for one bench first thinking it would take a year.” But within two months, the mother-daughter duo had collected enough bottle caps for three benches; it was all thanks to Sammie’s outreach efforts, rallying the local PTA, neighborhood baseball team, and even the local zoo.
After surpassing their goal, Sammi and Heidi continued collecting cap helping three other schools in their community build buddy benches. And as word began to spread, they’ve also been able to help schools nationwide build their own buddy benches.
“I feel happy other schools are catching on so no one has to be lonely. It’s boring to be lonely!” says Sammi, who will be starting fourth grade later this year and continues to visit local schools to share ways they can get involved. “And it’s also good for the ocean. When plastic gets thrown in there, the animals can die and there will be less animals. I’m very happy we are doing this.”