Overcoming shyness to make new friends isn’t always easy — but a local Boy Scout has helped make it less daunting for kids at Westwood Elementary School.
Paul Hornbeck, a 17-year-old junior at Wellington High School, is closing in on his Eagle Scout certification and as one of his final projects constructed two Buddy Benches for the Westwood playground.
The Buddy Bench program was started in America in 2013 as a way to foster camaraderie among children at recess. Kids who feel lonely are encouraged to sit on the bench so other students can identify them and ask them to join in play.
Since its inception, the program has spread to more than 2,000 schools across the country and was the subject of a TED Talk in 2014.
Horbeck was thanked by Westwood principal Paul Holland April 17 during a board of education meeting, drawing loud applause from those in attendance.
The prospective Eagle Scout took in donations to pay for supplies and completed the work over two weekends with the help of fellow scouts in Troop 414 and friends from First Congregational Church.
“I expect to become an Eagle Scout in June and service projects like this are a big part of making that happen,” Hornbeck said. “My mom told me the school was about to buy benches and I needed a big project, so we talked with Mr. Holland and were able to arrange everything pretty quickly.”
His mother, Joanna Broome, is a speech therapist at the school.
“I’ve heard kids talking about their excitement for having the benches on the playground and that really makes me feel great,” she said. “One of the most important things we teach a child is a sense of empathy and getting that point across to them that other people’s feelings matter. Kids can visually see someone there and think, ‘What can I do to help?’ It’s wonderful.”
“Kids just want someone to play with,” said Hornbeck. “It’s a great feeling to help one. A kid can be lonely or hesitant to talk with new people for so many reasons. At a young age, you can show that it’s not good to just sit there and watch someone be off by themselves. Do something about it. The younger someone is when they learn that lesson, the better.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.