Thimmig Elementary second-grader introduces school to Buddy Bench

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By John Carr

HENDERSON — Thimmig Elementary School second-grader Ethan Thomas–Gonzales had noticed that some students didn’t seem to have anyone to play with on the playground.


One day after school he read a story with his mother Shandelle, about a second-grader in Pennsylvania named Christian who had donated a “Buddy Bench” to his school.

When someone wanted a mate to play with they would sit on the bench. Other kids on the playground would know to come over and ask the student to play. Ethan asked his mom if he could do the same thing at his school, and she agreed to help him.

Thomas and Maudie Gonzales, Ethan’s parents, both remarked that Ethan has always been a compassionate and caring person. Thomas remembers her son asking if he could find a “Buddy Bench” and donate it to his school. Together they sat down and discussed a plan. When Thomas asked what she could do to help, she recalled Ethan answering, “Nothing, Mom, I want to do this all by myself.”

They both agreed that Ethan would have to talk with Thimmig Principal Justin McMillan and his second-grade teacher Sarah Quinn to get their permission. After presenting his plan Mr. McMillan and Ms. Quinn, the school officials overwhelmingly endorsed it. 

Shandelle Thomas remembers her and Ethan’s trip to Home Depot to find a bench. She said Ethan was filled with apprehension. She reminded him he wanted to do this on his own, so it was up to him to ask for help.

“Ethan, my little man, walked up to the service counter, tall and proud, and asked to speak with the Manager,” she said. When the manager walked out Ethan began his sales talk: “My name is Ethan and I want to give a ‘Buddy Bench’ to Thimmig Elementary where I go to school.”

Ethan explained to the manager what a “Buddy Bench” was and how it worked. He told the manager there were kids at his school that had no one to play with and a bench would help them find playmates. 

Tim Merrick, manager at the Brighton Home Depot, said he couldn’t help but  be impressed by the professionalism Ethan displayed.

“Here was this young child discussing with me the merits of his program and how a ‘Buddy Bench’ would benefit his school,” Merrick said. “Ethan impressed me with his poise, his confidence and especially his compassion.”

Merrick explained that benches are a seasonal item and usually not available in the winter. With another Home Depot employee’s assistance, Merrick was able to locate a bench. He told Ethan to come back the following day after they had time to clean the bench and make it ready for pick up.

As another part of the plan, Ethan decided he needed to discuss how a “Buddy Bench” works with everyone at his school. Shandelle Thomas said Ethan wrote down his speech on cue cards. With help from teacher Sarah Quinn, Ethan practiced his speech.

As School District 27J employees prepared to install the new bench, Ethan set out to talk with each class at the school, starting with kindergarten and working his way up. 

Quinn said she remembers how nervous Ethan was when it came time to speak with the fifth-graders. By that time he had given his talk enough to be a veteran, and said his talk came off without a hitch.

Quinn said she was most impressed with the response Ethan got from his fellow second-graders. Following his presentation students surrounded their classmate. They complimented him on his idea. 

Quinn said the class members offered to help and quickly volunteered to be a play friend. 

To her surprise, Ethan recently asked her to keep his cue cards so that he can give the talk every year, as Ethan explained, “so kids don’t forget what the bench is there for.”

Following the installation of the bench, several fourth-grade students developed a plan to expand the program. They wanted to create a “Buddy Patrol.” A patrol member would keep watch on the bench during recess and play times. They will make sure than anyone sitting on the bench will find a playmate.

When asked his thoughts on Ethan and his “Buddy Bench” project, Thimmig Principal Justin McMillan had nothing but praise to offer Ethan and the students at the school. McMillan stated that as part of his job he has playground duties during recess. 

“All of the students seem to have adopted the ‘Buddy Bench’ concept,” he said. “Every day I see children sit on the bench and within seconds another student approaches them and they are off to play. Ethan’s idea will have far-reaching benefits. No one will be left alone on a playground. Students who participate in helping out are learning a lot about being compassionate and those they help will feel far less alienated.”

At the edge of the playground next to the school building sits a park bench. On it is mounted a plaque that is inscribed with the message Thimmig Elementary BUDDY BENCH – Donated by Ethan Thomas–Gonzales and Home Depot. It has become a giant source of pride for the students and staff of the school, and especially one eight year old second grader named Ethan.

For additional information on Ethan Thomas-Gonzales’ “Buddy Bench,” contact Thimmig Elementary School at 303-655-2750.