When Sammie Vance first approached her principal at Haley Elementary with the idea of installing “buddy benches” into her school playground, the concept was simple: help others feel less lonely.
Little did she know that it would not only accomplish that goal, but evolve into something so much bigger.
After first hearing about buddy benches (where a child can go sit to signal “hey, I’d like someone to play with”), Sammie was immediately inspired. What a great way to make sure no one feels alone.
The good news? Her principal loved the idea. The not-so-good news: benches are expensive. Just one would cost nearly a thousand dollars.
However, a bench made of recycled bottle caps … that would only be around $250.
So Sammie reached out to others in her community in Fort Wayne, Indiana, to collect enough caps (around 400 lb) to make one bench. Eventually her goal went beyond Indiana, as she tried to get bottle caps from all 50 states.
And thus, the initiative of “Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project” was born.
Folks were so ready to rally behind her cause that not only was Sammie able to collect enough caps for three benches, she was able to do it in three months. The mission was certainly accomplished.
Pretty soon, Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project began garnering the attention of several news outlets (including Upworthy). For her amazing efforts, Sammie has been the recipient of several awards, appeared on the Today show and was named one of People Magazine’s “Girl’s Changing the World.”
And as of 2021, more than 200 bottle cap buddy benches now reside at schools and parks across the country, plus Mexico and Australia, People reported.
This is, of course, not just a beautiful story about helping others. It’s also a major win for sustainability. Habits of Waste reports 1.3 billion bottle caps are used each year. These caps cannot be recycled in the same way along with plastic bottles because each have different melting points, and when mixed in, can ruin an entire batch.
And that’s when they get discarded properly. Millions of caps have been found in our oceans alone, which can be devastating to marine life. In fact, it’s one of the leading causes of death. It’s big caring hearts like Sammie’s that help our planet heal against damage.
Sammie seems to have found her purpose early in life, spreading kindness through creativity. Her book (yes, she’s an author too) titled “Inspire the World: A Kid’s Journey to Making a Difference” debuted in August 2021, and aims to encourage other kids through her own stories of recycling and giving to the community. She also has a podcast called “Sammie Smiles” where she interviews other inspiring guests.
Whatever’s next for Sammie, it seems like she is going to lead with kindness and generosity. And it doesn’t look like her original idea is going anywhere. If you’d like to donate to Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project, you can do so here.