Buddy Bench has kids sitting on cloud nine

Preschool students at the Bishop Early Learning Center unveil the first "Buddy Bench" to be installed in the district Thursday, June 5, 2014. The benches, designed to be a "safe" place where students can find comfort, are a joint effort of the Norwich Anti-Bullying Coalition and Rotary Community Corps of Norwich and will eventually be placed in all public schools as well as private and charter schools and other public spaces.
Preschool students at the Bishop Early Learning Center unveil the first "Buddy Bench" to be installed in the district Thursday, June 5, 2014. The benches, designed to be a "safe" place where students can find comfort, are a joint effort of the Norwich Anti-Bullying Coalition and Rotary Community Corps of Norwich and will eventually be placed in all public schools as well as private and charter schools and other public spaces. Sean D. Elliot/The Day

Norwich — A dozen preschool students eager to be the first to sit, stand and climb onto the new Buddy Bench unveiled Thursday at the Bishop School Early Learning Center, the first of 50 such benches expected to be delivered over the next several months to schools in the greater Norwich area. 

“Bravo!” a few children shouted as they applauded when their classmates pulled the blanket off the colorful orange, purple and blue double-sided bench that will permanently adorn the main entrance to the school. 

Lynn DePina, director of the Family Resource Centers and the Bishop Early Learning Center, said the school will add posters to the wall above the bench and will paint a mural on an adjacent wall. 

As it has across the nation, and Canada and Europe as well, the Buddy Bench concept has caught on fast in Norwich. What started as a plan to raise money, build and place Buddy Benches in the city elementary schools has expanded to include all city schools, public and private, preschool to adult education. Libraries also will be included in the program. 

The second bench will be delivered this morning to the Wequonnoc School in Taftville. 

Members of the Rotary Community Corps of Norwich have designed the bench kits — most will be single-sided to be placed against a wall — and local artists are lining up to paint and decorate the benches. 

Norwich artist Faith Wibberly painted the Early Learning Center bench, painting words such as Peace, Dance, Happy, Enjoy, Give, Succeed, Dream, Live and Laugh. 

Now, 50 benches are planned for the greater Norwich area, with the goal of raising $100 per bench through an online fundraiser and local donations, said Deb Kievits, coordinator of the Greater Norwich Area Anti-Bullying Coalition. 

The benches are designed to encourage children to sit and meet new friends and for children "to know they are not alone," Kievits said. 

Norwich Superintendent Abby Dolliver thanked the Bully Busters group for its long-standing partnership with Norwich schools and the Rotary Community Corps for "a new partnership" with the school system. 

"There's no better place to start than here, with 3- and 4-year-olds," Dolliver said. "They know what life is all about." 

Peter Charron of the Rotary Community Corps designed the bench kit and said he would offer to share the kit design with other groups in the region interested in installing Buddy Benches. Rotary Community Corps will also sell the kits to schools or groups who want students to put them together and paint them. 

“We’re hoping this will go viral,” Rotary Community Corps member Dino Tudisco said. 

c.bessette@theday.com

How to donate to the Buddy Bench fundraiser in Norwich

Go to www.gofundme.com

Send checks made out to Bully Busters to Bully Busters, 262 Main St., Norwich, CT 06360, and write “buddy bench” in the memo line.

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