Be a Buddy, not a Bully

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Buddy Benches

Gegan Elementary School Roadrunners in Menasha try out their new Buddy Bench.

Contributor: Susan Perri, Marketing and Communications Specialist at United Way Fox Cities

Think back (some of you further back than others) to your elementary school days. What you probably didn’t realize during those days, was how much your brain was developing. Yes, you learned about reading, writing, and arithmetic. But, those were also intense years of developing social-emotional skills in the classroom and on the playground. Skills like, how to cooperate in teams, how to take turns, and how to participate in friendly competition, were practiced and refined during recess. Skills which you (hopefully) use at home, at work, and in the community to this day.

Thanks to United Way Fox Cities' sponsorship, I had the privilege of participating in Leadership Fox Cities, a 9-month program of the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce. As a part of the program, we were assigned groups and charged with implementing sustainable projects around community issues. My group of six joined forces with the Menasha Joint School District to target bullying. According to the 2016 Fox Cities LIFE Study, 27% of high schoolers in the Fox Cities face bullying at school, which is higher than state and national averages ( We wanted to address this issue by giving schools a tool to promote social-emotional learning, starting from a young age.

My group led efforts to raise funds and install designated “safe areas” on playgrounds called Buddy Benches. Children can sit on a Buddy Bench during recess when they feel lonely or bullied, signaling classmates to ask them to play. The Buddy Benches were installed at Banta, Butte des Morts, Gegan, Jefferson, and Nicolet elementary schools in Menasha. (Clovis Grove and St. Mary Catholic Elementary already had Buddy Benches.) My group presented the “Be a Buddy, not a Bully” program at school assemblies and encouraged kids to serve on the Buddy Patrol at recess, to make sure everyone is invited to play.

I’m very proud of my group members for their hard work and want to give a special thank you to their workplaces for sponsoring the Buddy Benches: Mary Butler (Pediatric Cardiology Clinical Practice Leader, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin – Fox Valley), Trevor Ermers (Business Banker, American National Bank Fox Cities), Sara Marquardt (CPA/Senior Manager, Wipfli LLP), Michelle O’Mahoney (Talent Acquisition Manager, Schenck SC), and Kate Seifert (Attorney at Law, Seifert Law Office).

During the project, I was reminded again how much our community cares. My group members, the sponsors, and Menasha Joint School District all pitched-in to make sure our future community leaders learn early-on about kindness, empathy, and inclusion.