Sometimes you just need a friend, and the AWS Foundation hopes to encourage those connections by giving 10 Buddy Benches to area schools.
The benches, which are intended to promote friendship among people of all abilities, are being donated in celebration of the foundation's 10th anniversary. Officials planned to make the announcement during a news conference at 11 a.m. today in Freimann Square.
Since its founding in 2007, AWS Foundation has supported a range of organizations and services in northeast Indiana as it works to ensure people with long-term intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities can participate "fully and meaningfully in all aspects of community life," an AWS Foundation announcement said.
The buddy bench project seeks to help all children feel more included at school.
While many children at times feel they don't have anyone to play with, studies show children with intellectual and developmental disabilities often face greater challenges in making friends, the foundation announcement said. Children with disabilities often are less accepted by their peers, have more difficulty in social situations and may feel lonely for longer times.
Educators around the world have used the buddy bench as a simple way to help students who feel isolated, the announcement said.
“When a child feels lonely, they sit on the buddy bench to let others know they want someone to play with,” Patti Hays, CEO of AWS Foundation, said in the announcement. “Fellow students playing in the area see someone on the bench and know to ask them to play. It’s an easy way for kids to connect and make friends.”
The buddy bench program also will teach all children the importance of acceptance, peer support and inclusion when they are at recess, the announcement said.
Fort Wayne schools receiving buddy benches include Forest Park, Haley, Fairfield and Holland elementary schools and Memorial Park Middle School. Other schools receiving benches are Heritage Elementary near Monroeville, Little Turtle Elementary in Columbia City, Adams Central Elementary in Monroe, McKenney-Harrison Elementary in Auburn, and Bluffton-Harrison Elementary in Bluffton.
Each buddy bench features a design created by a local artist, the announcement said. The designs of four benches honor a different founding member of the AWS Foundation board — the late Ian Rolland, Ben Eisbart, Andy Brooks and Patti Hays, the announcement said.
“As we celebrate our 10th anniversary, it is important to recognize and honor the work done by several of the foundation’s founding board members as they retire from the board," Tom O'Neill, AWS Foundation board chair, said in the announcement. "With the community’s recent loss of Ian Rolland, this recognition seemed even more poignant.
"Without their vision and leadership, AWS Foundation wouldn’t exist," O'Neill said. "They have helped thousands of people with disabilities in northeast Indiana.”
For more about the AWS Foundation, go to www.awsfoundation.org.