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Putting her stamp on the world: Girl Scout builds ‘Buddy Bench’ for OKC elementary school to help children make friends

Maddy Thompson is pictured with the ‘Buddy Bench’ project. (Photo Provided)

By Kelci McKendrick

Contributing Writer

Maddy Thompson wanted to make a difference in children’s lives through her attempt to
become a Gold Award Girl Scout.

To achieve the Gold Award, Girl Scouts have to identify an issue that's important to them and
then develop and carry out an innovative and sustainable solution with measurable impact,
according to the Girls Scouts website.

So, 16-year-old Thompson, who’s been in Troop 358 for around five years, decided to create
and install a “Buddy Bench” at Winds West Elementary in Oklahoma City to help combat
bullying, eliminate loneliness, promote inclusivity, encourage empathy and foster friendships

“I hope the Buddy Bench instills … kindness and inclusivity (in students at Winds West),”
Thompson said. “I just hope they learn some things from it — like being kind to one another, no
matter what.”

The Girl Scout Gold Award is the highest honor a Girl Scout can earn, according to the Girl
Scouts website. Girl Scouts who set out to earn the Gold Award have to meet certain
requirements and then spend at least 80 hours completing the necessary steps: Identifying an
issue; investigating it thoroughly; getting help and building a team; creating and presenting a
plan; gathering feedback; taking action, and educating and inspiring others.

Thompson, a junior at Mustang High School, wanted to learn and build all of the skills that
come with becoming a Gold Award Girl Scout — like communication, decision-making and
leadership — so she set out on her Buddy Bench endeavor in July 2022.

The idea of a Buddy Bench is simple. Children who are feeling lonely can go sit on the Buddy
Bench to signal that they need someone to play with. Other children will see them sitting there
and can go talk to and include them in their games.

Troop 358’s Leader Jenny Matthews said a Buddy Bench helps children find someone to play
with without them having to say anything at all.

“It kind of takes away the scariness of having to ask somebody, ‘Will you be my friend?’ Kids can
just sit on the Buddy Bench, and someone can grab them to play,” Matthews said. “That’s really
something (Thompson) wanted to focus on, and I thought it was awesome.”

Thompson approached Winds West, which has about 240 children enrolled there, in December
2022 about installing a Buddy Bench there, saying she thought it would be “a good way to give

Principal Liz Bean said she was “very open to the idea” after hearing about the Buddy Bench
from Thompson, as it can help children — whether they’re new to Winds West or may be a
little bit shy — find friends.

“I thought it would be a great opportunity for her and for our students,” Bean said. “My hope is
that (the Buddy Bench) will help students at Winds West find someone else to play with at

Thompson partnered with Canadian Valley Technology Center’s Welding Department to build
the Buddy Bench to her specifications.

Autumn Merrill, who was the instructor of the full-time, evening Welding Class during Summer
2023, gave Thompson “homework” for the Buddy Bench’s design, which was to sketch it out.
“I told Maddy … that I wanted her to be a really big part of the Buddy Bench — not just build
any other bench,” Merrill said.

Merrill’s Welding Class — with special thanks to students Tate Nease and Savannah Dicke —
welded it all together in less than two weeks. Thompson’s blue Buddy Bench includes children
flying kites on it, along with “Troop 358” and the phrase “Make new friends, but remember the

“And, that has a really big soft spot in my heart — doing something to give back to the
community that will last forever,” Merrill added. “(The Buddy Bench) will be something Maddy
will be able to go back to Winds West forever, and it will always be special to her. …

“I loved getting to see Maddy get out and put her stamp on the world, and being a part of it
was amazing.”

Thompson also created informational flyers in both English and Spanish for the Buddy Bench
and made a video about it, too, before it was installed at Winds West on Aug. 14, 2023.
Thompson said she was happy to see everything come together.

“I felt proud of all of the people who helped with it,” she said. “Like, ‘It finally happened. It
wasn’t just an idea I had one year ago.”

Bean said Winds West students have used the Buddy Bench as a way to make friends and find
other children to play with.

“It’s already making a difference,” she said.

And, Thompson hopes all children at Winds West will remember the Buddy Bench and use the
idea of it in their futures as they get older.

“I hope it starts at the Buddy Bench and expands from there,” she said. “It’s not always going to
be someone sitting alone on a bench. It might be someone alone at a swingset or eating lunch
alone, … so I hope they’ll be able to recognize when someone needs a friend.”

There are 48 Girl Scouts in Troop 358, which has been around for 10 years now, and Thompson
will go before the Girl Scout Gold Award Committee next month to learn if she’s officially
earned the Gold Award.
Thompson would become the sixth Girl Scout in Troop 358 to achieve it, Matthews said, adding
that she’s proud every time she sees a Girl Scout earn the Gold Award.

“It makes me want to cry every time,” Matthews said, adding that Thompson has “blossomed”
throughout the past year working to earn her Gold Award. “These girls work incredibly hard,
and it’s not a requirement of Girl Scouts. It’s just something they choose to do.”

Thompson’s mother Markie Thompson said she’s proud of everything her daughter has
accomplished throughout the entire process of the Buddy Bench.

“Maddy has really taken the initiative with this,” Markie said. “She’s done all of the work
herself, and it’s been pretty amazing to watch.”

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