When Emily Kornegay set out to work on a project for her Girl Scout Gold Award, she picked something worthwhile that could leave a lasting impression — friendship.
The Rosewood High School senior had a personal interest in the notion, having witnessed lots of “new kids” at school over the years.
“From elementary to high school, we have a lot of military kids come in,” she said. “Actually I have made friends with military kids, so it was kind of like I could see them getting used to a new school, especially for younger kids.”
She recognized the need for something to help them better acclimate to new surroundings and feel included, she said.
It called to mind a popular saying — the only way to have a friend is to be one.
That became the impetus behind her project, which started out as “buddy benches” at Meadow Lane Elementary School, located near Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and thus boasts a larger military population. It also happens to be where Kornegay’s mother, Michele, is a health and physical education teacher.
Emily spruced up and painted two benches on playgrounds at the school, for the younger and older students. They are both colorful and inviting, she said.
“The bench is there for, if you don’t have a friend to talk to that day, if you’re a new student or if you don’t have anyone to play with, to be able to talk and meet someone,” she explained. “We’ve told the kids, you can’t use the bench for sitting around chatting. You have to meet someone and kind of get to know someone and that way, then they can go play on the playground together.”
There are a few guidelines the students are given on how to help the bench work its friend-making magic. The following are some suggestions:
If you’re sitting on the bench, play with the first classmate who invites you.
While you’re sitting on the bench, look around for a game you can join.
Two friends sitting on the bench can turn to each other and invite each other to play.
When you see someone on the bench, ask that person to play with you. Keep playing with your new friends.
The project does not stop there, though.
Emily also wrote and illustrated a book that has been used throughout the school. Titled “Bea’s First Day Jitters,” it chronicles a military child’s apprehensions starting school and knowing no one.
The high school senior said she was fortunate to have her mother’s expertise and support.
“Mom helped me write a lesson plan. I’m only 18 so I have no idea what I’m doing with a lesson plan,” she said with a laugh. “We did a lesson plan and created a website connected to the e-book.
“Teachers can check it out from the library and read it to the class. Parents can also go on (the website) and look at it.”
Emily had her own parameters in determining her Gold Award project.
“It’s a project that will impact the community and has to be sustainable. It has to continue even when you go off to college,” she said. “The benches will be on the playground, hopefully forever.
“New kids are coming in any day.”
Feedback has been positive so far, she added.
“A lot of teachers have said that kids really enjoy the main character, a dragon,” she said. “Teachers are saying that the kids are using the benches to meet new people.
“That was definitely one of the components I wanted to do — to really just build those lessons, to be kind to people, always be nice, always reach out and help people.”
Most everybody has been a “new kid” at one time or another, she said, and yet this effort still managed to be enlightening for Emily herself.
“I think the project really opened my eyes as well, just from interacting with the kids and talking to them about being a new kid. It was really interesting to see the kids interact and be like, oh yeah, I’ve been there, I know what you’re talking about,” she said.
It has been an emotional as well as rewarding effort, she added. And who knows where the “Be the One” project might go, she said.
“It’s amazing to think that somebody might meet their best friends for life,” she said,
To read Emily Kornegay’s e-book, visit online https://emilyk121500.wixsite.com/beonebuddybench.