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The Buddy Bench Brings Friends Together

A simple idea to combat loneliness on the school playground – the buddy bench!  Christian, a first grader, saw a picture of a pretty bench, had an idea, and approached his principal.  He knew that some kids looked like they were lonely at recess, and he thought that a bench, labeled as a “buddy bench,” might encourage friendships.  His principal liked the idea, came up with the funds from the school budget, and soon the elementary school playground had a new addition.

The local newspaper picked up the story, then the Huffington Post and NBC, and the buddy bench movement spread across the country.  Students from all over the country have written to Christian, excited about his idea, and motivated to try and get buddy benches on their own playgrounds.

How about let’s all spread the message of friendship, inclusion, and kindness in our own neighborhoods!





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2017 Janitor of the Year inspires students and faculty

Ted Qualli, the 66-year-old janitor at Newtown Elementary School, knows the names of every one of the school’s 850 students.  Of course he is the first person to arrive in the morning and the last person to leave at night.  But he does much more than cleaning classrooms.  He wears his old Air Force uniform on Veterans Day and talks to kids about his service.  He grows countless plants and gives them out to the staff and student body.  Most importantly, he talks with the kids about life and teaches them that some of the most important things you learn, you won’t find in a book.  He explains to the kids:  “You got to listen.  You listen, everybody has a message that they're trying to tell you.”

“He's the guy that’s unsung.  He’s the guy that everybody knows is the go-to person.  He’s the guy that keeps the ship afloat,” says principal Kevin King.  As one student puts it:  “He does all this stuff, and he does it with a smile on his face.”  A parent expresses her appreciation: “They just don't make them that way anymore.  He is just absolutely one of the most amazing human beings on this planet.”

Among over 1,200 nominees nationwide, Ted has been selected the 2017 Janitor of the Year.  “I’m so overwhelmed and I just can’t believe that it happened,” said Ted, fighting back tears.  “I just can't believe that people think that much of me.”

The town of Newtown declared a Ted Qualli Day in his honor.  The parent-teacher moms sang him a song at the announcement of his award.  He received a $5000 cash prize from the Cintas Corporation.  And the kids, well, they just love him.


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Chicago Cubs star player creates two endowed funds at Children’s Hospital

Some professional athletes spend their money on luxury homes, cars, and vacations, but the Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo thought of something better.  Rizzo announced a $3.5 million commitment to create two endowed funds at a children’s hospital in Chicago.  One fund will provide grants on a case-by-case basis for families facing financial hardship due to unexpected needs resulting from a child’s treatment for cancer.  The other fund will provide ongoing support for two oncology Child Life specialists.

Over 300 newly diagnosed patients with a wide range of childhood cancers are treated every year at Lurie Children's Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. Because Rizzo’s gift is being made in the form of endowments, these resources will be available for patients and families for generations to come.  The 18th floor waiting room will now be named the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation Waiting Room.

Rizzo visits the Chicago hospital every month to inspire patients battling cancer with his motto, “Stay Strong, Dream Big.”  “As a survivor of cancer myself, I know the emotional and financial strain the diagnosis of cancer can put on a family,” Rizzo said in announcing the multi-million dollar donation.  With regard to the first endowed fund, he explained, “I believe that an individual does not battle cancer alone -- his or her entire family does. That's why we’ve designated this money to go directly to help families on the front lines.”  The second endowed fund, for Child Life specialists, is part of an innovative program aimed at reducing anxiety and normalizing the hospital experience for both patients and families.


Go Cubs and Go Rizzo!


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  • Published in Sports

High School Students work on a project to create solar-powered shelters for the homeless

Twelve students from San Fernando High School, a math, science, and technology magnet school in the Los Angeles area, spent all last year working on a project to create solar-powered shelters for the homeless.  These16 and 17 year old girls are mostly from low-income families, and are either the daughters of immigrants or immigrants themselves.  They came together and created energy-efficient shelters for those in their community who are less fortunate, without any place to live.

Violet Mardirosian, a math teacher and magnet coordinator at San Fernando High, has worked with the team since the beginning.  There was a lot of work to be done, and the girls spent countless hours researching, working, writing, testing, and re-testing to get it right.  They’ve given presentations to their school, as well as to a group of local engineers.  Their work is so impressive that they’ve been invited to present their work at MIT this June.

These girls have not received a grade or even high school credit for their project, so the work takes place outside of their regular curriculum, after school and on weekends.  When asked what motivates these ambitious students to keep going, Mardirosian says “it’s their drive and compassion....  The girls want to provide comfort and dignity to those in their community who need it the most.”

These girls’ awareness, resolve, commitment and inventiveness are inspiring, but their story also shows that exposure to STEM-related opportunities really matter, and it sends an important message to young girls around our nation: “math and engineering are for you!”



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