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Building Connections Through Buddy Bench

In partnership with 2 elementary schools in South Los Angeles and Victorville, Kaiser Permanente provides a new resource to help ease students' loneliness.

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Moving to a different school or neighborhood, the loss of a pet, or being bullied can contribute to a child feeling lonely. With the help of new “buddy benches,” children at 2 under-resourced elementary schools in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties now have a special place to go on the playground to lift their spirits and find a friend.

When a child needs a friend to talk to, he or she can show this by sitting on the buddy bench. Other children and school staff will know this is a sign the child wants help, support, or comfort and will come talk to the child. The benches can be used any time during school hours.

In partnership with both schools and Patient Care Services and Support Services (such as Environmental Health and Safety, and Supply Chain) at Kaiser Permanente Southern California, the buddy benches were installed in March and April. The 109th Street Elementary School in South LA welcomed the first bench, while Brentwood School of Environmental Studies in the Victor Elementary School District in Victorville received 2 benches.

Each participating school also receives a 2-day educational program to equip administrators, teachers, and support staff with strategies for success and to instruct students on using the bench. Based on the schools’ responses to the buddy benches, Kaiser Permanente Southern California will consider purchasing and installing additional buddy benches for other selected elementary campuses.

“Introducing this message of kindness to our youngest population will hopefully inspire in them a continued positivity and leadership that they will carry on into junior high, high school, and beyond. By helping to boost students’ social skills and well-being, we hope to decrease school bullying and violence.”

-- Jerry Spicer, regional chief nurse executive and vice president, clinical effectiveness, Kaiser Permanente Southern California

Chrystal Battey-Brown, the principal at 109th Street School, agreed, adding: “The buddy bench will help improve chronic absenteeism through a sense of belonging, compassion among students, and encouragement to attend school.”

Loneliness a growing public health concern

An escalating public health problem nationwide, loneliness negatively impacts a person’s physical and mental well-being. A recent study found almost half of Americans feel lonely sometimes or always, and younger generations feel the most isolated. While loneliness is not a diagnosable medical condition, research suggests it may be a greater public health hazard than obesity.

Other effects of loneliness on health include disrupted sleep, stress, increased blood pressure, and inflammation. In children, loneliness can lead to various problems, including poor self-esteem, absenteeism, and antisocial behaviors.

“Failure to be socially connected to peers or feeling left out can cause some children to become depressed or angry, sometimes with tragic results. Loneliness significantly affects total health. By using ways such as the buddy bench to reduce loneliness, we are not only improving the health and well-being of the students, but also the school staff and community.”

-- Scott Wendling, vice president, Support Services, Kaiser Permanente Southern California

Christian Bucks from York, Pennsylvania, introduced the buddy bench concept as a first-grader to his elementary school in 2013. The idea to help foster friendships has spread throughout the United States and to a dozen other countries.