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National Honoree

Photo of National Honoree Samantha Vance

Samantha Vance

United States of America

Samantha Vance, 12, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, a sixth-grader at Blackhawk Middle School, launched an initiative to provide “buddy benches” for shy, lonely or bullied kids at more than 150  schools across the country. “I noticed a lot of lonely kids at recess, and I get lonely sometimes, too,” said Sammie. So when she heard about buddy benches – specially-designated benches where kids can sit and make new friends when they have no one else to play with – she asked her principal if she could get one for their school. After finding a company that could recycle plastic bottle caps into benches, Sammie posted a video on Facebook to enlist help from her community in collecting caps and lids. In just two months, she had 1,600 pounds – enough for three benches.

As word continued to spread via social media and news coverage, bottle caps poured in from all 50 states and from as far away as Europe and Africa Sammie secured support from local and national businesses including pharmacies, shipping stores, coffee shops, and sports teams. With the thousands of pounds of caps and lids she has collected, and fundraising efforts that have generated $35,000, Sammie has helped schools throughout the U.S. get their own buddy benches. In addition, she speaks to groups large and small about how they, too, can make a difference. “This project helps the planet with the plastic pollution problem,” said Sammie. “But even more importantly, it helps create a place for kids who are shy, lonely or bullied to go to and find a friend.”