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Sammie Vance: “Find a problem that you want to solve”

To me making a difference is to make people feel joy, and it can be simple or really big! Something that will want to make other people make a difference as well. Being the change, you want to see. As part of our series about young people who are making an important social impact, I had […]

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To me making a difference is to make people feel joy, and it can be simple or really big! Something that will want to make other people make a difference as well. Being the change, you want to see.


As part of our series about young people who are making an important social impact, I had the pleasure of interviewing Sammie Vance.

Sammie Vance is a 12-year-old on a mission to spread kindness, whom at an early age has already inspired the world through her endeavors. She was honored to be a winner of this year’s Diana Award and Gloria Barron Award for Young Heroes for her work on recycling plastic caps into buddy benches for groups all over the US and getting attention worldwide for her efforts. Walgreens and UPS have helped her spread buddy benches and Kathie Lee Gifford even wrote her a song. Sammie works daily to spread awareness about being a friend and helping the planet. Whether she is collecting caps, speaking to groups, sending smiles or interviewing guests for her podcast she makes sure everyone knows they are important and that “You don’t have to be an adult to make a difference you can be a kid too.”


Thank you so much for doing this with us Sammie! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us about how you grew up?

I just turned 12 so I still have a lot of growing up, but here is a little about me. I have an incredibly supportive family. I am a middle child. I have an older brother and a younger brother and sister. I live in Indiana and love all the four seasons I get to enjoy. I enjoy school and to spend time with my friends. I feel so lucky to have found my passion at such an early age and to have the support of my family to go for it, never realizing the impact it would make. I was very shy when I started my project and had a hard time speaking to others. With practice and a few years of experience under my belt I know love speaking to anyone who will listen. I am happy I’m not all grown up yet because I still have a lot to learn and do.

Is there a particular book or organization that made a significant impact on you?

I love reading inspiring books such as I am Malala. That really inspired me to do good things.

Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Books like I am Malala inspire me because Malala Yousafzai went through so much and is still fighting for what she believes in today. You can also relate to the story which makes it more interesting.

Reading her speeches helped me when preparing my own speeches and made me more courageous. If she could do what she did then so could I.

You are currently leading an organization that is helping to make a positive social impact. Can you tell us a little about what you and your organization are trying to create in our world today?

My Project “Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project” is teaching people to help save the environment and be other people’s friends. A buddy bench is a place for when someone is lonely, they can sit on the bench and another person can come up to them and ask them to play. We did this in a unique way because my community helped recycle plastic caps and lids to get the buddy benches. I want everyone to have a friend and have people recycle more.

Can you tell us the backstory about what originally inspired you to feel passionate about this cause and to do something about it?

I heard about the buddy bench concept at summer camp when I was 8. I thought it was a great idea. I feel lonely at times and I knew other kids in my school did too. When I talked to my mom about wanting them for my school, she encouraged me to make an appointment with the principal so that is what I did. I had originally drawn a comic to help explain what the buddy bench was and what it was used for. One thing that I think is so cool about the buddy bench is that it signals other people to know that the person on the buddy bench is in need of a friend because if the person on the bench is shy, it will be hard for them to walk up to someone and ask them to play. And finding a company that makes benches out of recycled plastic caps was a bonus! It helped me get the community involved and saved money. It helped me teach others about friendship and saving the environment all in one.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

I think the most interesting/cool and also my favorite part of my project is that I get to meet so many amazing people that are making a difference. Being able to give away 75 buddy benches to schools all over Indiana was a moment I will never forget. And being on the Today Show was pretty cool too. Kathie Lee Gifford wrote me a song and it was sung to me on the show.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

When I was in 3rd grade and had just started the project, I remember this boy that was in 1st or 2nd grade that would come up to me and say “good job” or give me a thumbs up. I think that is crazy because apparently it really impacted my life as well because I still remember it. But in general, I think a lot of people have been impacted, adults and children

How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

To me making a difference is to make people feel joy, and it can be simple or really big! Something that will want to make other people make a difference as well. Being the change, you want to see.

Many young people would not know what steps to take to start to create the change they want to see. But you did. What are some of the steps you took to get your project started? Can you share the top 5 things you need to know to become a changemaker? Please tell us a story or example for each.

  1. Find a problem that you want to solve
  2. Find a solution to that problem
  3. Take action and get the word out
  4. Get as many people involved as you can
  5. Realize the impact that you are making and believe that you can do more!

Those are my top 5 things you need

Example:

  1. I wanted to help find a cure for loneliness
  2. I heard about the buddy bench and wanted to use that
  3. I made a comic and got the word out to my community
  4. I got the community and beyond to help collect
  5. My buddy bench project got a lot further than I expected and I think it has made a difference to a lot of people

What are the values that drive your work?

When I realize the impact I have made, it makes me want to do more and continue doing it. I also love to see how other people are making a difference. One thing that I admire about Malala Yousafzai is that she still works on many projects till this day and still fights for what is right.

Many people struggle to find what their purpose is and how to stay true to what they believe in. What are some tools or daily practices that have helped you to stay grounded and centered in who you are, your purpose, and focused on achieving your vision?

I have a thankful journal and each night I will write 10 things that I am thankful for and that helps me think positive and think about my surroundings. Another good way to find your purpose or something that you want to help change is to ask yourself “What breaks your heart?” For me it was to see lonely people on the playground and my project all started from there.

In my work, I aim to challenge us all right now to take back our human story and co-create a vision for a world that works for all. I believe youth should have agency over their own future. Can you please share your vision for a world you want to see? I’d love to have you describe what it looks like and feels like. As you know, the more we can imagine it, the better we can manifest it!

I honestly do not expect for the world to become a utopia, it would be great but that would be HARD! I want to see more world peace and equality and just to see everyone to have a friend no matter how they look. I would also like to see more people recycle and help care for our environment.

If the world were filled with more equality and world peace it would feel as if you could go up to anyone and ask them to play and not be scared just because they look a certain way. If the world would help save the environment more, the world would look better, and the animals would be more protected.

The reason I do not expect the world to be a utopia is because us humans wouldn’t learn because we learn from our mistakes.

We are powerful co-creators and our minds and intentions create our reality. If you had limitless resources at your disposal, what specific steps would take to bring your vision to fruition?

I would make sure that there would be buddy benches everywhere with no cost or let everyone do it themselves and have them feel the pride. I would also love to see more people caring for the environment and let people have the resources to do that.

I see a world driven by the power of love, not fear. Where human beings treat each other with humanity. Where compassion, kindness and generosity of spirit are characteristics we teach in schools and strive to embody in all we do. What changes would you like to see in the educational system? Can you explain or give an example?

In health I think it would be cool if they taught more about friendships and how it can mentally help you and to make the right choices on who your friends should be. I would also like it if they touched more about saving the environment. It is science especially at a young age because it would encourage people of all ages to help save our planet.

It is important to learn about how the friendships you make can impact on your life choices and how they can help you. If younger people get to learn more about how the echo system is being impacted by their choices, it encourages them to make a difference.

If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?

I would tell them that it makes other people happy and will make a difference in so many people’s lives and if you realize that, it will make you happy and want to spread more kindness! I like to end my speeches and podcast this way because it is true “You don’t have to be an adult to make a difference, you can be a kid too.”

Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are two people that I would love to meet with because of their amazing work:

Malala Yousafzai

Malala is just so inspiring to me because she was and is determined to make a difference and I just love everything she does!

Lin- Manuel Miranda

Lin created my favorite movie/play Hamilotn. I love how he has made a difference through something super entertaining and tells the story of so many amazing people.

Both Malala Yousafzai and Lin- Manuel Miranda inspire me and make me smile!

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Instagram: Sammiesbuddybenchproject

FaceBook: Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project

Twitter: Sammiebenches

Website: www.sammiesbuddybenchproject.com

Youtube: Sammie Smiles (Podcast)

(All monitored by parent)

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!


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