Members of Girl Scout Troop 10653 and other students unveil two new Buddy Benches at St. Mary Parish School, Hales Corners. The troop raised $2,000 to replace one playground bench and a second one was donated. (Submitted photo)

Not all kids have an easy time making friends, and the playground can sometimes be a lonely place.

Eight girls from St. Mary’s Girl Scout Junior Troop 10653 set out to change that.

Led by Katie Schmitz, Christine Gielow and Meg Sutton, the scouts led an effort to place Buddy Benches on the playground at St. Mary Parish School, Hales Corners.

If a student is outside and has no one to play with or perhaps is just a little too shy to approach others, he or she can sit on the bench. This signals to other students that this is someone to invite to play or participate in a game.

The idea came about after the troop members had a discussion with Principal Dr. Mark Joerres about ways they could help improve and fill a need around the school.

“The girls decided they wanted to replace the current benches at the school,” said Schmitz. “The benches were in poor shape and were going to be taken down without a replacement.”

“When researching benches, a mother and daughter from our troop came across these buddy benches as an idea, and when (it was) brought to the troop, all the girls agreed,” said Gielow. “Our school’s theme this year is Be Kind — so they went perfectly along with the theme.”

Woven throughout the school day, the kindness theme also prevails during extracurricular activities and is present around the building throughout the year, said Angela Girard, Marketing and Communications Coordinator for the school.

“It is incorporated into our lessons when applicable. We also have various banners, posters and student artwork posted throughout the building that incorporates the theme,” Girard said. “In the past, one of our themes was WWJD (What would Jesus do?) and next year, our theme will be ‘Do small things with great love,’ inspired by St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta.”

The eight Girl Scout Juniors in grades five and six raised $2,000 over six months through running a lemonade stand, hosting brat frys and having a bake sale at the church.

The girls purchased one Buddy Bench, and Scherrer Construction Co., Inc. in Burlington donated a second one for the playground. The students are excited to use the benches.

“We hosted two pep rallies with the elementary and intermediate students,” said Sutton. “All 360 students were excited to see the new benches. The teachers were very impressed and said they were better than they expected.”

Last month, the Girl Scouts hosted an unveiling and blessing ceremony for the new benches.

According to Girard, the ceremony in the school’s gym included speeches from the Girl Scouts explaining their various efforts and planning.

“The girls also performed a skit to demonstrate how Buddy Benches are used,” she said. “Dr. Joerres also spoke to the students during the event about the benches fitting perfectly with (the school’s) theme. Fr. Aaron Laskiewicz, St. Mary Pastor, spoke to the students as well, and then blessed the new benches.”

The students were excited to learn how to be cognizant of the needs of other students. Parents were happy to learn that the kindness theme will extend to the playground, especially for students who might be feeling a little left out, said Girard.

“We look forward to the positive impact they will have on our students,” she said. “The benches work as a signal, so when students might not realize that someone is feeling left out or is looking for someone to play with, the benches help to make that very clear. So students can easily see who is looking for a friend to include them and (it) takes an already welcoming, friendly culture that we have here, and makes it even better. The benches offer students another tool in their ‘toolbox’ to assist them in building friendships and inclusivity, fostering an even greater welcoming environment.”

Each of the eight Girl Scout Juniors who were involved with the project have earned the Bronze Award for their efforts. This is one of the highest awards in Girl Scouting and requires teamwork, exploring a need in the community, deciding on a project to complete, developing a plan, completing it and spreading the word.