By Brian Hagberg
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Ellicott Elementary School students will now have a place to let other children know they need a friend thanks to Schriever resident and Ellicott Elementary fourth grader Natalie Moore. That’s because Moore, 9, donated a pair of Buddy Benches to the school during a ceremony there May 11.
“If you’re feeling lonely or your friends aren’t at school that day you can go sit on the bench and somebody will come over and invite you to their game,” Moore said. “And if you see someone on the bench, no matter what, you’re supposed to go over and invite them to play.”
Moore created the benches as the final piece to earning her Girl Scouts Bronze Award. In order to earn the Bronze Award, Girl Scout Juniors must complete a Journey, create something reusable and make a positive, lasting change for their community.
Typically, the Journey and project would be completed by a group of Girl Scout Juniors, but Natalie’s situation was unique in that she did almost everything by herself.
“Most troops have a group of girls who brainstorm, plan and execute these projects together,” said Bonnie Moore, Natalie’s mother. “She did this by herself. Usually you might have 12 to 15 girls working on a project and Nat did it solo because she didn’t want to miss the opportunity to get her Bronze Award.”
A Bronze Award is the highest honor a Girl Scout Junior can achieve, according to girlscouts.org.
Bonnie said this project also had a personal meaning for Natalie.
“She doesn’t have very many friends at school, so this [project] started personally,” Bonnie said. “We were looking for a way to be the change, and everything fell in line. She’s hoping that other kids like her, that need a little help, walk away [from the bench] with someone to talk to.”
Robin Weidemueller, Ellicott School District director of gifted and talented, said gifted students, like Natalie, often have trouble making friends because other kids view them differently.
“It is sometimes hard [for them to make friends], so it was really neat that Natalie could see that in herself,” Weidemueller said. “That was something she had to work on to make it happen, and then she found a way to share it with her peers. I think that was an insightful thing for a fourth grader to be able to do.”
While researching the Buddy Bench project, Natalie discovered this idea is rapidly becoming a national movement among youth in America. Buddybench.org tells the story of Christian Bucks, an elementary student at Roundtown Elementary School in York, Pennsylvania. Bucks saw a Buddy Bench at a school in Germany while researching for a potential family move, and decided to try to get a bench for his school.
The bench was so popular that soon every school in the district had one, and the project began to spread to other areas. Bucks’ story became so widespread he was featured on the Today Show Dec. 4, 2014, and Buddy Benches are now at schools across the country.
“It’s a movement now,” Bonnie said. “Since we started doing research, we’ve noticed how widespread it’s become.”
Bonnie said it was approximately two months from the day they pitched the idea to Ellicott Elementary Principal Joe Torrez until the dedication ceremony. During that time, Natalie raised money, purchased materials to create the benches, painted the benches and weather sealed them, all of this with only minimal assistance from her friends and parents.
In order to raise enough money to purchase the benches and all the materials to finish them, Natalie created a tri-fold board explaining her project and put it in the school hallway with a donation can so other students could contribute. She also held a yard sale at her home on base which helped her raise $150 for the project.
“She had a lot of support from people on base,” Bonnie said.
Completing the project wasn’t without incident. There were several obstacles and setbacks along the way. Bonnie said they spent a significant amount of time researching exactly which kinds of wood and paint would work best for the project, then once Natalie settled on a bench, it wasn’t available.
“When she picked the bench she really wanted, it wasn’t available when they went to buy it,” Weidemueller said. “So she had to redo her whole thinking.”
Natalie said the family cat left his personal signature on the bench as well.
“He stepped all over the orange paint and got it all over the arms,” she said.
The area’s severe weather recently nearly left Natalie stranded in the mountains and a produced small pond in the school playground. Fortunately, the school yard was dry for the ceremony.
“Natalie was with the Girl Scouts camping and she was snowed in on the mountain,” Bonnie said. “We had a few hiccups, but it was mostly smooth sailing.”
With the completion of the project, Natalie has earned her Bronze Award, though she won’t receive the patch until her troop’s end of year party. What she really wants to see though, is people taking advantage of the Buddy Benches at school.
“I would like to see somebody walking away from the bench with somebody talking with them,” she said. “I’m not saying I want to see people on the bench, but you want to see people walking away from the bench with someone to play with.”