Mars student hopes to help kids make friends

October 10, 2019 Cranberry Local News

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Mars senior and Boy Scout Michael Riggio will be installing a “buddy bench” in the elementary playground for his Eagle Scout project.

ADAMS TWP — A high school senior pitched his Eagle Scout project to the Mars Area School Board on Tuesday night with favorable results.

Michael Riggio, a member of Troop 400, wants to install a “buddy bench” on the elementary school playground.

“It's a kind of bench that you put out at a public place,” he said. “Kids feeling left out or at all bullied … can then go and sit there (to) be helped and find a friend.”

Michael said he hopes to continue the district's application of Rachel's Challenge, a national nonprofit program working to reduce violence in schools. The program is named for Rachel Scott, the first student killed in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting.

Michael, who once was the new kid in town, wants every student to have a friend.

He moved to the Mars district halfway through fourth grade.

“Everyone already had their friend circles,” Michael said. “It was very hard for me — as an already very shy person — to get into a friend group.”

He said he could have used a buddy bench when he was in elementary school.

“Why not use my experience to help someone else going through the exact same experience?” Michael asked.

The bench will be rainbow-colored and built with boards made of 540 recycled milk jugs. Its mission will be inscribed on its side.

“It says, 'The only way to have a friend is to be a friend,” Michael said. “Which is a very good saying.”

In addition to building the bench, he will donate a book about the buddy bench to the school library.

Superintendent Wes Shipley told Michael the buddy bench has a special place in his heart. When his daughter, now a first-grade teacher, went to preschool for the first time, she did not make a friend right away.

“She said, 'Everybody found a friend, but nobody found me,'” Shipley said.

The board unanimously voted to grant Michael access to the playground for the project. He hopes to have the bench installed before winter.

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