Cumberland teen inspires fellowship with 'buddy benches'

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CUMBERLAND — This may be Audrey Hankinson’s final year at Greely Middle School, but the project she’s undertaking should have an impact for many years to come.

In order to earn her Girl Scout Silver Award – the highest honor a Girl Scout cadette can receive – the eighth-grader is building two “buddy benches.” The wooden seats that hold about three students each will be placed at the middle school and Mabel I. Wilson School.

Silver Award projects are meant to identify a problem and contrive a solution with lasting significance. They must also reflect a topic of great importance to the scout.

The bench project accomplishes that for Hankinson, who serves on her school’s civil rights team.

“If a kid is feeling lonely or bored, they can sit on the bench, and another kid can come and sit with them,” Hankinson said in an interview April 23. It is a means of students showing support for another, and helping build each other’s self esteem.

The 13-year-old had to complete a questionnaire that detailed her proposed endeavor, take a class about such projects, recruit an adviser, and receive approvals from the Girl Scout Council and School Administrative District 51.

One project requirement was that it involve the community. To that end, the two schools’ civil rights teams will splatter different primary colors of paint on the benches, which are white. “Greely” will be stenciled across the back of the GMS bench, and “Tuttle Town” on the other, reflecting the Wilson school’s playground name.

Hankinson also must measure the success of her project, which she is doing through two surveys – one, asking the K-5 students for whom the seats are intended whether they’ve heard heard of buddy benches, and the other, after the benches have been in use for a little while, to determine their impact on the children.

Hankinson also had to get a budget approved by the Girl Scouts, which funded the $150 she needed to complete the work. Hancock Lumber donated the wood.

Both benches may be in place this month.

Hankinson – who is a daughter of John and Kelly Hankinson, and whose 10-year-old sister, Katie, is also a Girl Scouts – will move up to the senior scout level in high school, and be able to go for a Golden Award.

“The Golden Award is like this, times five,” Hankinson said, pointing to the two benches as they sat in various stages of completion in her parents’ garage.

An online tutorial aided her in constructing the benches, and she has learned skills like painting, measuring, running a saw, and constructing all the various pieces to make the final product.

“I’m really proud of her, that she stuck with it,” Kelly Hankinson, a Girl Scout troop leader, said last week. “She comes right out here every day without complaining, because she can’t wait to do the next thing.

“As she moves up to high school, moves up the hill, a little piece of her is still behind,” her mother added.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Audrey Hankinson of Cumberland is building two “buddy benches” for use outside the Greely Middle and Mabel. I Wilson schools, as part of her Girl Scout Silver Award project.

Audrey Hankinson’s two “buddy benches” should be completed and in place this month.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.