You may have seen some of these “Buddy Benches” around our local schools.   The idea is that if a kid is sitting on one of these two-seaters alone, another kid will go and sit next to them.   The idea has been around for a while, and it seems to be working.

Suicide Prevention and Awareness of Calhoun County (SPAOCC) has built 70 of them so far, and they’re working to get training into the schools so other kids and teachers will know how they can help fight the loneliness and isolation that can lead to suicide.  The organization says the benches provide a safe place for kids to seek help, reduce and prevent bullying and empower young people to make a difference.

Sharon Wixon and Jeff Bobrofsky are members of the group and were guests on the 95.3 WBCK Morning Show with Tim Collins.

SPAOCC Sharon Wixon, Jeff Bobrofsky-TSM Photo by Tim Collins

Wixon lost her 50-year-old brother to suicide in 2010.   “When we look back, now that we're educated on the subject, there were signs but we didn't recognize those signs at the time,” said Wixon.  “It took me a few years to come out of a deep depression, and after that, I figured out that I wanted to help.  Suicide ends the pain for the person that takes their life, but it doesn't end the pain for the family members and friends left behind, so we want to help with that.”

Wixon says she heard about Buddy Benches and called up retired builder Doug Murphy, who happens to be her uncle.  He started building the benches in his shop, and then one of his friends from Schweitzer Construction started building them, and it just snowballed from there.  “And I just met last Friday with the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights up in Wayland and they're going to start building our benches for us, with their apprentices and students.”

Bobrofsky found Ralph Hansel in Jackson, and he was able to use a laser to etch the logo and name and suicide prevention hotline number into the benches.  “He was the only one we could find who had a four-foot table that did laser etching on wood,” said Bobrofsky.  “I loaded up the car with wood and drove over to Jackson.  And he gave us everything at half price as his donation to our nonprofit group.   And then after we were done with the first batch of boards. He related to me that he had lost his mother to suicide when he was eight years old.”

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Wixon says they’re raising money right now for more benches, but also to facilitate training.  “We're working on getting a professional video so schools can have a retraining each year for the new teachers that explain the concept of the buddy bench.”

You can sponsor a buddy bench.   With your $200 donation, another bench will find its way into our community.   And they’re not just for kids.  The group also provides suicide awareness and prevention information to young adults and veterans by partnering with community members and organizations through fundraisers, donations, and volunteer activities to lower the rate of suicide in this area and to honor those who have been lost to suicide.  In 2020, the organization was able to donate money to a local veteran’s apartment complex which helped to fill their food pantry. They also put together Christmas stockings with gift items for each renter such as gloves, scarves, hats, and socks.

The group will be holding a “Ride for Awareness” on Saturday, September 11, 2021, at the Eagles Lodge Aerie #299 in Battle Creek, MI.  If people do not have a motorcycle they can still join in their car.  In addition to the ride, great food, raffles, live music, and all the fun 2019 provided.

Ride for Awareness Sept 11-2021 Flyer

While the SPAOCC does not provide counseling or advice, we can provide contact information for the following resources that can provide appropriate information:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline - 1-800-273-8255 (https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org)
  •  Mental Health Association in Michigan - (248) 647-1711
  •  Summit Point – 24 Hour Crisis – 1-800-632-5449
  •  Summit Point Youth Mobile Crisis Team – 269-441-5945
  •  Crisis Text Line…Text HOME to 74174
  •  For Emergency | DIAL 911

For other questions about upcoming activities, contact Suicide Prevention and Awareness of Calhoun County via email at spaocc1@gmail.com  or call 269-967-5313

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