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'It will really help a lot with bullying': Bench serves as a safe place to find friends

The “Bulldog Buddies” bench serves as a place for students to go when they find themselves friendless or being bullied. When a student sits on the bench, it gives other students the opportunity to invite their peer to play with them. (SBG photo)

EUGENE, Ore. – Workers installed a new, granite bench at the Awbrey Park Elementary School playground Thursday dedicated to a teacher who encouraged comradery.

The “Bulldog Buddies” bench serves as a place for students to go when they find themselves friendless or being bullied. When a student sits on the bench, it gives other students the opportunity to invite their peer to play with them.

“If you don't have a friend, or if you had an argument with your friend, you go and sit on the bench and somebody will come over and ask to play with you and stuff,” said Artana, a fifth grade student at Awbrey Elementary School.

The buddy bench started as a picnic bench on the playground. But after it was vandalized, the school removed it.

“It was very upsetting to our students. I have a lot of students I teach in classrooms about bully prevention, and every time I walked in their question was, 'Where is our sign for our buddy bench?’” Kristen Gianforti, a counselor at Awbrey Park Elementary School said.

Now, a granite bench sits in its place, thanks to the Eugene Active 20-30 Club.

“I know one time I was bullied and I really didn't like it. So I feel like with this, it will really help a lot with bullying,” said Sam, a student.

The new bench is dedicated to Melissa Davies, a former teacher who taught various classes at the school for 25 years.

Just over three years ago, Melissa’s life took a turn.

“She just developed a cough, and all teachers get coughs because you have kids you're dealing with all day long, and she coughed up blood. And I said, 'Honey, that's not right. You've got to go see your doctor,’” said Tucker Davies, Melissa’s husband.

Melissa was diagnosed with lung cancer. She died in 2016, but her impact on the school remains.

“She was very energetic, and she cared a lot about the kids and what she did,” said Olivia, a fifth grade student.

“In terms of just helping out with, and really creating a climate of caring and friendship was a huge part of who she was,” Gianforti said.

Those who knew Melissa said she will continue to improve the school through the “Bulldog Buddies” bench.

“To know the impact that she had on staff and students here makes my heart happy,” Tucker said. “And to be able to see something with her on it here at the school which she loved so much is pretty special.”

The “Bulldog Buddies” bench was paid for by the Eugene Active 20-30 Club.

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