Sometimes kids who are bullied don’t know where to go for help.

Thanks to an Eagle Scout, that’s no longer the case at a Maryland elementary school.

For his Eagle Scout project, Tory Ridgeway built a buddy bench at Windy Hill Elementary School in Owings, Md. Whenever a student is feeling down, he or she can sit on the bright blue bench, which is decorated with handprints and inspiring phrases like “be happy” and “speak up.”

“If they don’t have a friend or if they’re having problems, they can come sit here and a friend will come and talk with them or bring them into their game,” said Cara Quade, Tory’s fourth-grade teacher and the woman to whom the bench is dedicated.

Victim turned advocate

The inspiration for the project comes from Tory’s own life. As a young person with autism, Tory said he was often subjected to bullying.

“I did not want other kids to have to go through that because that is not fun,” Tory explained to WTTG-TV, the Fox affiliate in D.C.. “It is not fun.”

Once Tory’s mom, Vanessa, enrolled her son at Windy Hill, everything changed.

“They knew that I had autism and they tried to work around that, sort of,” Tory said. “They understood what was happening in here.”

Bet on the bench

Tory has watched kids sit on the bench he built. When they take a seat, they’re often alone and looking sad. Before long, though, another kid will run up and invite their new friend to play.

“It’s nice,” Tory told WTTG-TV. “Good to know people are actually using it.”

Tory knows from his own childhood that young people with autism can struggle to socialize. With the buddy bench, he hopes to lessen that hardship.

“Let your light shine, so be yourself. I wasn’t letting my light shine before I came here,” Tory said. “I felt like I couldn’t.”

Tory is an Eagle Scout in Troop 487 of Fort Washington, Md., part of the National Capital Area Council. And his light is shining brilliantly.

Thanks to Aaron Chusid of the National Capital Area Council for the tip.

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