When students at Nelson Mandela Park Public School are bullied or feel threatened, they have an alternative to approaching teachers and Toronto Police 51 Division officers who make regular visits to the school.
They can sit on the brightly coloured Friendship Bench, unveiled at a ceremony on November 16.
Kill it With Kindness (KWIK), a non-profit anti-bullying organization, created The Friendship Bench program two years ago as an anti-bullying tool that represents a safe zone for children and teens who don’t necessarily have the voice to speak out against bullying.
“Our mission is to help stop bullying, on all levels, in all communities, through advocacy, conflict resolution and education,” said KWIK founder and executive director Kyla Prosser. “Our hope is to inspire conscientious attitudes and actions of kindness and respect towards all people while developing a deeper understanding of all forms of bullying.
“…This bench is an interactive tool to open the lines of communication… It’s a huge support to children and youth who don’t necessarily have a voice to speak up about someone bullying them. When you sit on the bench, it alerts teachers, staff, volunteers or even another student that you are in need of assistance in the form of just having someone to talk to or even a friend for that day.”
Several Service members, including Regent Park neighbourhood officers Constables Melissa Huntley, Ed Parks, Farzhad Ghotbi and Mircea Biga, attended the ceremony.
“When we are at this school during recess, about 20-30 of the kids surround us,” said Biga, whose son is in junior kindergarten. “I love connecting with them and I am happy there is somewhere where the kids at this school who are bullied can go and expect some comfort.”
Superintendent Elizabeth Byrnes, 51 Division unit commander, said she’s extremely proud of the work her officers are doing in the Regent Park community.
“We have picked the right officers to be here,” she said. “They are all focused on trying to reach out to young people in the community. We might not see the benefits of their work today or tomorrow, but in five to 10 years a lot of these kids will remember these officers and the positive impact they have had on their lives.”
Longtime 51 Division Community Policing Liaison Committee member Bob Kemp donated the $1,500 for the purchase of the bench.
“I am opposed to bullying and welcome the opportunity to help young people overcome that kind of negative behaviour,” said Kemp.
School principal Jason Kandankery and vice-principal Ainsworth Morgan thanked KWIK for adding the Friendship Bench to their institution.
“As part of our culture of caring, this bench will be located outside the main office,” said Morgan. “We will find a location for it outside when the weather improves. We welcome everyone to support whoever is sitting on that bench because they will need someone to be a friend.”
The bench’s multi-coloured seats represent the community’s diversity. The predominantly blue colour stands for the anti-bullying awareness ribbon colour. The big red heart at the back of the bench represents love, compassion and kindness.
On the last of his three visits to Toronto, Mandela attended the renaming of Park Public School to Nelson Mandela Park Public School in November 2001.
The former South African president died last December at age 95.