Standing up for a kinder and more peaceful world can start by simply sitting down.

That is the philosophy behind the buddy bench movement, a worldwide effort to create safe spots for children—or grownups—to gather when they are looking for a friend. The motto of the buddy bench movement is “Make Buddies, Not Bullies.”

Founded in 1976, Mountaineer Montessori School (MMS) is the largest and oldest Montessori school in West Virginia, offering a rich academic and arts curriculum to 125 students in Charleston. Located in the University of Charleston neighborhood, MMS recently revealed its colorful contribution to this international campaign of kindness with a student-built and painted bench that stands as a symbol of unity, friendship and thankfulness for students and all who visit the school.

“By providing a way for children to be included on the playground, the buddy bench is a tool for students to use to advocate for themselves, to always include others and to promote a safe and respectful environment for all children,” says MMS Director Jennifer Carriger. “We hope others will be inspired to create their own benches to build bridges in our community.”


The oversized bench was built by students from repurposed and new wood under the direction of Chad Cordell, an MMS parent volunteer. Students ages 3-14 honed math skills, learned carpentry and made new friends of all age levels in the complex process.

“My favorite thing was putting the wood together with a power screwdriver,” says Willy Margolis, a fourth grade student.

Well-known Appalachian artist Charly Hamilton volunteered to work with the children to add colorful touches to the finished bench. Hamilton has been involved with MMS for decades. Among his most visible MMS collaborations is the school’s 20-foot-long sign overlooking busy MacCorkle Avenue, which is created from whimsical spirit animal letters.

“I always jump at the chance to help,” says Hamilton. “Kids enter every activity with an anything-is-possible attitude. They always pick the biggest brush and the brightest paint. Their attitudes inspire and feeds into my own work.”

Students chose symbols that represent friendship, happiness and kindness to decorate the buddy bench. “It was a lot of fun to paint with Charly,” says first grade student Eliza Clark.

“It made me feel very good to be a part of the buddy bench project,” says Hamilton. “I really like the meaning behind it. No one needs to be alone.”

This story was originally published at West Virginia Executive

About the Author

JoEllen Zacks is a mother, lawyer and education advocate from Charleston, WV. Former senior vice president of the Charleston Area Alliance and senior director of strategic communication for the American Bar Association in Chicago, Zacks puts businesses and nonprofit organizations on the map through visioning, capacity building and smart messaging. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin’s School of Journalism and the John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

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