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Buddy Bench creates friendships on elementary school's playground

5th-grader Javier Rojas' family brings bench to Jax Beach Elementary

JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – A new addition to Jacksonville Beach Elementary School is creating friendships and fostering kindness.

The Buddy Bench was recently installed on the school's playground and has a simple purpose: If a student needs someone to play with at recess, the child can go sit on the colorful bench and someone else will come join.

Javier Rojas, a fifth-grader at Jacksonville Beach Elementary, even starred in a public service announcement on YouTube to explain how it works. 

"The point of the video was to give other people an idea of what the Buddy Bench is supposed to do," Javier said. 

There have even been times when Javier said he needed to use the bench. 

"A couple times, like, last year, I had problems making friends," he said. "Most of the times at recess, I had nothing to do and many other people were playing with their friends. So I felt kind of sad."

Channel 4 brought the first Buddy Bench to northeast Florida earlier this year as part of its Positively Jax initiative. 

Javier's family and his father's shipmates aboard the USS Vicksburg donated this bench to Jacksonville Beach Elementary -- free of charge to the school. They hope more people will donate benches in other schools throughout the country, too. 

And Javier wasn't the only one who had to use the bench. Since it was installed, the school's principal said the bench is used at least once a day.

"I'm happier seeing other people making new friends so they can be happy," Javier said. "And when other people are happy, I'm happy."

Thanks to the Buddy Bench, Javier became friends with Jacob Diedrich, president of the Fifth Grade Student Council.

"It can help students bond with each other. Even if you just sit down, you can play with them and talk with them," Jacob said. "People think, 'Oh, it's just a bench.' But it's more than a bench. It's a bonding system."

And the movement is helping more and more students everyday.

"Now, I'm more happier that there is a Buddy Bench. It's like the Buddy Bench was the hero," Javier said.

Since the Buddy Bench was brought to Jacksonville Beach Elementary, other schools have installed their own Buddy Benches and Duval County Public Schools plans to help install more, as well.

Anyone who would like to sponsor a bench, or like to get a bench put on a playground, is asked to email positivelyjax@wjxt.com. News4Jax will then help match up a sponsor with a school.