Moffat County community members bring Friendship Benches to elementary schools | CraigDailyPress.com

Moffat County community members bring Friendship Benches to elementary schools

Chris Miller, of Miller Family Appliance, set the local Friendship Bench project in motion

Michael Neary





Fourth-grader Matthew Loyd, left, and fifth-grader Forrest Siminoe sit and talk on Sandrock Elementary School's Friendship Bench.

Michael Neary

— Chris Miller, owner of Miller Family Appliance, in Craig, saw a young student from Florida named Acacia Woodley at an appliance show about a year-and-a-half ago — she was about 12 years old — and he was taken by what she had to say about bullying and about friendship.

"She was being bullied, and she turned it into something positive," he said. "She's grown that into something that's helping a lot of people."

Acacia developed the idea to create for schools what she calls "friendship kits," including benches where children can sit together and cultivate friendships. So she started a company called Tiny Girl, Big Dream, according to the company's website, which can be found at http://www.tinygirlbigdream.org/.

"The Mission of Tiny Girl, Big Dream comes from the life of a tiny girl, a girl who was born of magic," the website says. "A girl without complete arms who, despite her differences, or perhaps because of them, intuitively knows what it feels like to be left out, not to be part of the 'normal' group."

Miller decided he'd like to see these benches come to the community somehow, and so he talked with Marci Marumoto, advisory board member with Grand Futures. He said she came into the store one day and said it would be a great project for the Moffat County Teen Council at Grand Futures Prevention Coalition.

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"I said, 'Yeah it would, and I would love to pair with you guys,'" Miller recalled.

Marumoto described how the pervasive possibility of bullying made it an important project for the Teen Council.

“I think it can happen in any kind of arena, so it was a good fit,” she said.

Friendship Benches are now placed in four Moffat County School District elementary schools. Miller said he purchased one of the benches, and he said another was purchased by TCB Contracting, in Craig. Moffat County Teen Council raised money for the other two benches.

The benches are produced by CR Plastic Products — a company that’s worked with Tiny Girl, Big Dream on the project.

The schools also received other materials in the friendship kit, including colorful bracelets for the students.

Principal Kamisha Siminoe, of Sandrock Elementary School, said students in the school will be able to use the bench to talk about smaller disputes before they have a chance to fester and create larger problems.

"If it's a big issue they're supposed to come and talk to an adult," she said. "For a smaller issue, when they're trying to work through some things, they'd sit on the bench and talk to each other."

Siminoe said the bench will be placed in a prominent place in the school so that students will be able to go there when they want to talk through a problem.

"Kids will make that choice," she said. "Kids know where it is, and they can come and sit and work things out."

Miller said he's gotten affirmative feedback about the benches so far, and he described the way his own grandchildren motivated him to try to improve life at school for kids — and to cultivate the sorts of friendships Acacia has described.

"I thought (the project) was important," Miller said. "I've got nine grandkids, eight of them in schools here in town … How do we make them grow like that?"

Contact Michael Neary at 970-875-1794 or mneary@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @CDP_Education.