Students learn to ‘Start with Hello’

OKEECHOBEE — As part of the Sandy Hook Promise, Start with Hello week was incorporated into the Okeechobee County Schools. Start with Hello week enabled students to make a difference with their peers in a simple, fun, and impactful way by encouraging them to take small but powerful actions to promote connectedness and inclusion, and to identify and help others who are showing signs of social isolation.

This Buddy Bench was donated by Dave and Karen Cook.

Social isolation is the overwhelming feeling of being left out, lonely or treated like you are invisible. Young people who feel this way may pull away from society, struggle with learning and social development, or choose to hurt themselves or others.

Our Village Okeechobee and donors were able to place Buddy Benches at each elementary school and the Okeechobee Achievement Academy Preschool. We were able to include high school students who willingly took up the challenge to design and build the benches. A huge thank you to Steve Szentmaroni for leading that effort. Then the benches were moved to the art class under the direction of Miss Salas, who allowed the art students to create and paint the designs.

Each school choose Buddy Bench ambassadors to have students be able to teach other students the purpose and use of the bench. These benches are for children to sit on if they need to find a friend to play with at recess. Other students then go and extend the hand of friendship and offer to play with the student who was alone. The benches were designed and built specifically to bring attention to the growing epidemic of social isolation and empowering young people in our schools to create a culture of inclusion and connectedness.

A gracious thank you goes to our sponsors: R-Bar Estates (Terry Daniel), The Morgan Family, The Minor Family, Anita Suarez Nunez and Family, The Cook Family, and finally CPA Tax Solutions.

Our Village is currently working to place Buddy Benches on all kindergarten playgrounds. If you’d like to help, please contact Leah Suarez at 863-697-8718.

This Buddy Bench was donated by Anita Suarez and family.


The Morgan family — (back) Goride, Jarred, (front) Malissa and Justin — donated a Buddy Bench. Special to the Okeechobee News/Leah Suarez.

Joanna Hoover, Sandra Torres and Paula Younger are pictured with the Buddy Bench donated by CPA Tax Solutions. Special to the Okeechobee News/Leah Suarez.


This Buddy Bench was donated by Don and Gail Minor. Special to the Okeechobee News/Leah Suarez.

North Elementary School kindergärtners Hannah O’Neal (left) and Hayden Suarez (right) enjoy the bench donated by R-Bar Estates – The Ranch. Special to the Okeechobee News/Mary O’Neal.

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