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A new bench anchored firmly in the ground overlooks the play area of Clara Hearne Pre-K Center.

Called the Buddy Bench, it is more than a piece of outdoor furniture.

It is a safe space for students which honors a Nash County teen who took his own life.

The idea of Clara Hearne teacher Amy Parker, the bench also represents a spirit of charity.

Clements Mechanical designed and fabricated 21 benches at no charge.  

Rose Pate, a speech pathologist, donated the plaques placed on benches while B&T Trophies did the engraving. 

The benches have been placed at elementary schools across the Roanoke Valley and even in Nash County. They are at elementary schools in Halifax and Northampton as well as the two elementary schools in the Roanoke Rapids school system. Rocky Mount Academy has one of the benches.

Parker wanted to do something to honor the memory of the son of a close friend — 15-year-old Max Dula — whose parting words to his mother are inscribed on the bench just below the words Parker wrote.

“Keep kindness and love in your heart,” are the words the teen left, while Parker’s words above describe the purpose of the bench. “On the days that you do not feel your best, have a seat and take a breath. If you need a friend for comfort and support, one will come soon to check on you!” And the young students in her class use the bench for its intended purpose and other students will come to check on the one sitting there. Sometimes a student will just need some alone time on the bench, she said.

In the short time it’s been placed, a teacher has even used it and was met by concerned students. “It was amazing,” Parker said. 

With the idea to honor her friend’s son, Parker reached out to Luke Clements of Clements Mechanical, where her husband, Jarrett, is employed. “He said ‘tell me what you want, it will be donated.’”

Then, Parker said, the company, “Designed and fabricated them and didn’t want to take any money. It says a lot. Anybody who knows Luke knows what a giving heart he has.”

Parker said B&T gave her a fair price on the engraving. “They were so good to work with. We wanted to keep it with local businesses.”

Roanoke Rapids Graded School District Interim Superintendent Julie Thompson said, “Mrs. Parker has done an amazing job coordinating the installation of these Buddy Benches in our district.”

Thompson said the safe space helps to create an environment to talk about mental health. Doing so, she said, “Empowers students to reach out to a trusted family member, teacher, or friend when needed. We are so thankful for our community partners and their support of our students and staff.”