Samantha “Sammie” Vance is a nine-year-old from Fort Wayne, Indiana who just changed the world. You know, like those songs and speeches where people tell you to “be the change you want to see?”

Well, Sammie did just that.

After attending camp over the summer in 2017, Sammie learned about a “buddy bench” that ensured every child had a playmate. It’s a simple and friendly way children can connect with one another during recess. I clearly remember the social anxiety I felt when I stepped onto the playground alone. What would those days have been like if a sunshine yellow buddy bench had been there?

Sammie told her mother, Heidi, that she’d like to add a buddy bench to her school. Heidi found a company that could turn 400 pounds of bottle caps into a brand new, eco-friendly bench.

The duo knew they’d need help to reach this goal. So Sammie sat down with her principal and pitched her idea using this drawing:

Photo Credit: Heidi Vance

How many children do you know who want to visit the principal’s office? Sammie did, and he wholeheartedly approved of the plan. She didn’t stop there, however. Next, Sammie contacted numerous local businesses who all jumped on board. She created a video to ask for bottle cap donations on social media.

Sammie hoped to collect 400-pounds of bottle caps in three months. Instead, she collected 1,200 pounds in only two months! That’s THREE new buddy benches! 

Word of Sammie’s project spread and eventually she received bottle caps from every state in the US.

Photo Credit: Heidi Vance 

Sammie’s vision doesn’t stop at her own school. “I want every school in Indiana, at least Indiana,” she said in a video published by Now This Her, “but other people in, like, Japan and stuff; they can get buddy benches.”

The minute I heard about this idea, I thought of my own children who will enter elementary school soon. It warmed my heart to think of benches like this being at their school. Doesn’t every parent want his or her child to be included and to make friends?

In fact, I think Reese Witherspoon nailed it on the head with this tweet about Sammie’s project:

Now that Sammie’s school installed them, are they working, you may ask? I checked with Sammie’s mother in a recent email interview.

“I love how the benches are working,” Heidi wrote. “Kids are excited and aware to ask people to play. The teachers on the playground say it’s working as it should which makes all the work worth it!”

The neat thing about this whole project is that it took one idea from a child, AND it took a parent who was ready to listen and do something about it.

“It reminds me how important it is to listen to our kids’ ideas and passions,” Heidi wrote, “If I would have told Sammie I didn’t think it was doable, well, there would be more caps in the landfill, and I believe, more lonely kids on the playground.”

Photo Credit: Heidi Vance

Would you like to see a buddy bench in your child’s school?

Here are some great ways to get started:

Save your caps! Here is a list of acceptable bottle caps and lids you can hold onto for recycling:

Ask your school if they’re doing something like this yet. If not, meet with the principal and start the conversation in your community. Invite your child to be a part of this process too.

Find support. Heidi started this Facebook group to help anyone interested in a project like Sammie’s buddy benches. If you have any questions about making this a reality at your child’s school or somewhere else in your community, jump in there to learn more.

We play such a crucial role in our children’s lives as parents. This story reminded me that we’re doing more than raising children to become adults. We’re raising them to affect the world for good. In this case, it’s supporting the environment and helping one lonely child at a time.

Ready to get started?

Laura Harris

Laura Harris is a Christian writer, wife, and mother of three rambunctious cherubs. She is passionate about faith, family, finance, and Star Wars. She has been featured on The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, and Equipping Godly Women. When she’s not on an adventure with her family, you can find her encouraging Christian work-at-home moms on Facebook or blogging about faith and motherhood at