Carolyn Kopp, a sophomore at Muskego High School, loves a lot of the things her peers enjoy.

She loves listening to music on YouTube, especially the boy band One Direction, reading,

Carolyn Kopp, a sophomore at Muskego High School, Muskego, and graduate of St. Leonard School, Muskego, sits on the buddy bench she arranged to have installed at St. Leonard as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award. (Catholic Herald photo by Ricardo Torres)

Carolyn Kopp, a sophomore at Muskego High School, Muskego, and graduate of St. Leonard School, Muskego, sits on the buddy bench she arranged to have installed at St. Leonard as part of her Girl Scout Gold Award. (Catholic Herald photo by Ricardo Torres)

hanging out with her friends and singing in her school choir.

She has a regular sibling rivalry with her older brother, Ryan, loves Shortbread Girl Scout cookies, and has dreams to either be a singer or work with animals.

What sets Kopp apart from her peers is her passion for helping others and her continued work with the Girl Scouts of America.

Kopp recently completed her Gold Award, the highest honor for a Girl Scout, after she built a buddy bench at her former school, St. Leonard, Muskego, as a way to combat bullying in school. She was honored for her work at an official Girl Scout ceremony last month.

The concept of the buddy bench came to the United States from Germany. A first grade boy from Pennsylvania found out about a special bench at a German school that worked to eliminate loneliness in the school environment. Multiple buddy benches have since been created across the United States.

The official website states,“The buddy bench is a simple idea to eliminate loneliness and foster friendship on the playground.”[su_pullquote align=”right”]Age: 17
Parish: St. Leonard Parish, Muskego
Occupation: Muskego High School sophomore
Favorite hobby: Listening to music on YouTube, reading
Favorite church hymn: “Go Make a Difference”
Favorite song: “No Control” by One Direction
Favorite quotation: “True friendship is seen through the heart not through the eyes”
Favorite Girl Scout cookie: Shortbread [/su_pullquote]

When Kopp first heard about the buddy bench from a fellow Girl Scout, she became passionate about creating one at St. Leonard.

“The bench is for a child that is alone,” she said. “The child can sit down, and another friend can come and join there.”

Kopp’s inspiration for the project was to provide the St. Leonard’s students with a tangible way to prevent loneliness and bullying.

“I relate to the kids being bullied,” she said. “I can feel their pain because I went through the same thing.”

The buddy bench was the culminating project of Kopp’s Girl Scout career. She started Girl Scouts in first grade and continued with it through elementary, middle and high school even after many of her peers left for other extracurricular activities.

Her love of Girl Scouts comes from many group outings to Adventure Rock or laser tagging, countless cookie sales, and years of attending Camp Pottawatomie Hills in East Troy.

Kopp has taken on leadership roles at the day camp as a program assistant. She plans to become a counselor-in-training, otherwise known as a CIT, this summer.

“The Gold Award helps high school age girls learn more about their community, take action and learn about their leadership skills,” Kopp’s Gold Award mentor, Amy Haffner said. “The award features three main elements: developing leadership, a sustainable project and resolving an issue at the root cause.”

The process to achieve the gold award is a lengthy one, involving proposals, meetings and at least 80 hours of work. Kopp spent 93 hours and 39 minutes on the project.

“She really pushed on,” Patty Kopp, her mother, said. “The project was something to be proud of, and she was so determined to get her Gold Award. She is the only one from her troop who has been able to get theirs completed.”

“She took an earnest interest,” Haffner said. “I loved how much more she was willing to stretch herself and learn from the process.”

According to Haffner, the sustainability portion of the Gold Award is important.

“We teach them root cause analysis to find the root cause of the problem and develop a project that addresses that problem,” she said. “The girls learn about sustainability and put that into action.”

Along with the construction and painting of the bench, with which Kopp graciously received help from community members, she gave a presentation about how to use the buddy bench, created a DVD about the project, and made bookmarks for the students so they wouldn’t forget the importance of the buddy bench.

The added resources for the students make the buddy bench sustainable and relevant for years to come.

“I liked her desire to connect with the students at their age and at the level appropriate,” Haffner praised.

The bench was formally unveiled last Sept. 28 with an assembly for K4 through fourth grade students at St. Leonard. Kopp, with help from friends, demonstrated how to use the buddy bench. At lunch students were already talking about the buddy bench, and since its unveiling, Kopp and her family have received countless emails from parents about how the buddy bench has been a great addition to the school.

St. Leonard’s principal, Sue A. Watkinson, expressed pride in Kopp for her service to the school.

“St. Leonard School feels very strongly about service projects. Giving back to the school and the community is important and what we are about,” said Watkinson. “St. Leonard School lays the foundation of sharing our time and talent with others.”

Patty Kopp believes her family’s faith played a role in her daughter’s willingness to serve others through this project and every day. The Kopp family attends Mass every Sunday, except when Ryan, who is a volunteer firefighter, is working. Then they go on Saturday.

“We definitely make going to Mass a priority in our family,” Patty Kopp said. “Going to a Catholic grade school helped. We wanted both our kids to get a Catholic education.”

She believes the family’s Christian faith formed her daughter into the loving person she is today.

“She finds the goodness in everyone,” Patty Kopp said. “Carolyn has always been friendly with everyone. She never wanted anyone to be alone.”