12-year-old girl to promote "Friendship Benches" in High Point
Acacia Woodley may have been born without complete arms, but there’s nothing wrong with her heart.
Acacia, a 12-year-old girl from Palm Bay, Fla., has a big dream, and she’s not about to let the shortness of her arms — or the shortsightedness of cynics and naysayers — get in her way.
Her dream? To put a “Friendship Bench” — a bench promoting the virtues of friendship and kindness to all — in every school in the United States and Canada. Thus far, the benches can be found in 48 U.S. and Canadian schools, according to officials with C.R. Plastic Products, the Stratford, Ontario-based company that makes the brightly colored benches.
“We quickly jumped on board,” says Bruce Ballantyne, vice president of finance and administration for C.R. Plastic Products, which manufactures recycled patio furniture. “We make the benches out of scrap from our production process. If a board has a defect of some kind, we save it to use in these benches, so each bench we make is unique.”
Just like Acacia.
This weekend, Acacia will be in High Point — in conjunction with the opening of the spring High Point Market — to promote her Friendship Benches. She will be at C.R. Plastic’s outdoor showroom, and the public is invited to come meet her and pose for a photo with her on an oversized Friendship Bench.
According to Ballantyne, Acacia’s desire to foster kindness and friendship stems from an experience in her own life.
“When she moved to a new school in Florida, she was bullied by the popular girl in school,” he explains. “She has no right hand and only two fingers on her left hand — she’s been that way since birth — so she’s very small and different, and she was an easy target for this girl to pick on. Acacia didn’t even want to go to school.”
Then Acacia came up with an idea.
“She decided that maybe this bully needs a friend, so she invited her to her house to talk to her,” Ballantyne continues, “and what she found out was that the girl was going through a bunch of issues at home.”
In other words, she really did need a friend — a true friend — and Acacia filled that void.
“This girl is now one of Acacia’s best friends,” he says.
From that experience, Acacia came up with the idea of putting a Friendship Bench at her school, so her mom helped her buy a wooden Adirondack bench, which they painted in many colors and placed in the school. Then C.R. Plastic Products was contacted to make more benches for other schools.
“When a Friendship Bench is placed in school and someone is feeling bullied, or maybe they’re the new kid in class and they’re feeling lonely, they’re taught to go sit on the bench,” Ballantyne explains. “The other kids are taught that if they see someone sitting alone on the bench, they’re to go sit with them and be their friend.”
Acacia also came up with the idea of students being written up for friendship — for being kind to a fellow student who’s sitting on the bench — an ironic twist on the traditional practice of students being written up for bullying.
“The principal of Acacia’s school said for every bullying report she gets, she gets 50 friendship reports,” Ballantyne says. “It’s completely changed the culture of their school, and now bullies are being written up as friends.”
Acacia promotes the benches through an organization she calls Tiny Girl, Big Dream.
The benches, which sell for $1,000 apiece, are made from recycled plastic and are hand-painted with words of encouragement and positive character traits such as hope, respect, listen, dream and encourage. Each bench also has three quotes about friendship — one on each arm and one along the front edge.
Schools purchasing a bench also receive sample “Friendship Reports” for writing up students who befriend others; plastic wristbands engraved with the words “I Am Amazing” for each child in the school; a letter from Acacia about her mission; and a video in which she explains how the benches are to be used.
“She’s encouraging other children to spread friendship and kindness,” Ballantyne says, “which pushes bullying and violence right off the table.”
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Want to go?
Visitors can meet and have their photo taken with Acacia Woodley and one of her “Friendship Benches” Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and from 3 to 6 p.m., and Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
She will be at the C.R. Plastic Products outdoor showroom, located at the Mendenhall Transportation Terminal on E. Commerce Avenue between Showplace and the International Home Furnishings Center.