Gateway to Success Academy gets Friendship Bench

May 4, 2019

SCOTTVILLE — The Friendship Bench Project on Friday dedicated its 13th bench, which was the first bench at Gateway to Success Academy (G2S).

The bench was constructed by a group of about 10 G2S students, and it was installed near the school’s basketball hoop. The bench was funded by an anonymous donor, said Marie Fay, cofounder of the Friendship Bench Project.

It was dedicated in memory of Christopher Schaner, a high school senior who took his own life in October 2018, and Fay thanked Schaner’s family for attending Friday’s ceremony.

“We are very honored that his family is here representing him,” Fay told the crowd of G2S students and staff members. “We just want you to know that the students who made this bench are making a difference in the community, in their lives and actually in the world. If you can teach people to be kind and include them, you’re making a big difference.”

Friendship Bench Project Cofounder Yvonne Bess-Jones said, “All students deserve a good friend,” and said the bench is a tool to help achieve that.

The 9-foot-long bench is a spot where multiple students can sit and join together if any of them are feeling bad and need friendship.

Schaner’s grandmother, Barbara Locke, also spoke during the ceremony and addressed the topic of bullying.

“It doesn’t take much to say something wrong or something right to a person,” Locke said. “You have to think before you speak ... Think about what that person is feeling. Our Christopher was a kind person; he was kind to everybody. It’s amazing to see the result of all his life and everything he’s done to come together in events like this.”

She told all the students to look at themselves in a mirror sometime soon and say, “I’m OK.”

“If you can like yourself, you can like the people around you and you can help others do the same,” Locke said.

In conjunction with the bench project, about 25 G2S students wrote stories and produced a video about the harmful effects of bullying. Another student also created a compliment box for students to drop in anonymous compliments for anyone feeling in need of encouragement, and Fay thanked everyone at G2S who contributed.

Fay told the Daily News she’s thankful for the work of “three angels,” woodworkers who helped build the six benches being installed this year, but she wouldn’t say their names. One of them came to G2S each week to mentor the students as they constructed the bench.