By DONNA HARRIS
With pretty much everything shut down or canceled by the coronavirus pandemic, Daisy Haley spent her summer doing what any typical 8-year-old would do — playing with circular saws, nail guns and electric screwdrivers.
The White Elementary third-grader did spend her summer break working with power tools, but it was under the very watchful eye of her paw paw, Jim Haley, who was helping her build a buddy bench to donate to her school.
A buddy bench is a special bench on a playground where any child can go if he or she needs a friend, and when other kids see someone sitting on it, they know that child needs some special attention.
“All my summer camps were canceled because of coronavirus so my mom said to find a summer passion project, and she showed me some of the TED Talks for Kids shows, and there’s this little boy who thought of the idea of a buddy bench, and I thought that that was such a good idea for my school,” Daisy said, noting she was “still 7 — I hadn’t turned 8 yet” when she came across the project.
The daughter of Mike and Miranda Haley of White decided to build two benches — one for each playground — and her mom contacted Principal Amy Heater soon after the schools were shut down in March to get her approval for the project.
“[Mrs. Haley] was just concerned about the world that we were living in and the fact that we need some positive in our lives, and I said I greatly agree,” she said. “She also said that Daisy had this wonderful plan. She wanted Daisy to have a service project to complete. I said that would be great. She said Daisy wanted to do a Buddy Bench. [Daisy] said that sometimes she is lonely, and she just needs a friend so she had this concept of ‘let’s do a buddy bench.'”
Daisy knew she needed help to complete her project, but she knew just where to go.
“I thought it was going to be hard to build them, but then I thought of a few people that might be able to help me, and I thought of the perfect person, my paw paw, because he is a carpenter,” she said. “That was the perfect thing because he knows all about building things in wood.”
“She and her mother both said, ‘We’ve got a project for you to do, if you’d like,’ but Daisy’s the driving force behind all this,” Jim “Paw Paw” Haley said. “It was Daisy’s idea — ‘Hey, Paw Paw does woodworking. Paw Paw can build it,’ and I said, ‘Yeah, I’ll build it, but you’ve got to help me. You’re not going to get this for free here. You’re going to have to help me, too,’ and she goes, ‘I will.’ It was something she really wanted to do.”
Haley said he helped Daisy design the bench and figured out what materials they would need, and her maternal grandfather, Scott Swann of Lawrenceville, known as Grump Daddy, bought the wood and paint for the project.
“Then Daisy and I built it,” he said. “We had a great time working together. We built it in my basement. I’ve got all my tools down there, and she’s not afraid of the power equipment or anything like that. She helped me paint and glue.”
Daisy said she “actually got help from my paw paw” on how to use the power tools with adult supervision.
“He showed me how to build it and some really cool tools like an electric screwdriver, a nail gun and a circulating saw,” she said.
Mrs. Haley said she “didn’t really think it through” before her daughter began working with saws and nail guns.
“Then when she was over there one week doing it, my mother-in-law sent me a picture of her with a circular saw, and I was like [gasps],” she said. “And then I was like, ‘It’s fine. She’s supervised. She’s very careful. It’ll be fine. It’ll be fine.’ She was just fearless about it. He has three grandsons, none of which will step foot in the wood shop. It terrifies them. But she marches right down there and goes to work. I kind of thought maybe she would be daunted by the scope, like how big of a project this was, but she just felt like it was something important to do, and she was going to do what she had to do and learn what she needed to learn to get it done.”
Daisy said it took three or four days to make the first bench and another one or two days to paint it in the WES colors of blue and white.
“It was really fun to make all of it, from just getting the wood to painting it,” she said. “[Painting] was the most fun.”
The young carpenter was happy with the results of her first major woodworking project.
“It turned out amazing,” she said.
Mrs. Haley said the blue bench — which has white “Buddy Bench” lettering and a plaque that says “Donated by Daisy Haley, Built by Paw Paw, Financed by Grump Daddy” — is “very well-built” and “very sturdy.”
“Paw Paw wanted to angle the back legs so that if a kid crawled over the back, it wouldn’t tip over,” she said. “He just made sure that it was solid. And I love the way she painted it with the school colors. He called up one day because he was going to go buy the paint and said, ‘What color? Are you going to paint it pink or purple?’ She said, ‘No, White Elementary School colors.'”
Accompanied by her parents; her 3-year-old brother, Sidney; her paw paw; and her grandmother, Vicki Haley, Daisy presented the bench to the school Wednesday afternoon, and her dad and paw paw placed it on the third-, fourth- and fifth-grade playground.
A distance learner right now, Daisy said she hopes the bench is “going to make White Elementary the best school in the world.”
“I hope that everybody can have a long, happy and a not-so-lonely life and make a lot of new friends and new memories in school,” she said.
Haley said getting the second bench built for the kindergarten, first- and second-grade playground will depend on when Daisy can get to his house in Snellville to work on it, but he’s hoping it will be finished sometime in September, maybe during fall break.
“When everyone was quarantined, she could come over, and we could work on it and everything, and now she’s back [in school], working at home with her mom,” he said.
“We already have all the materials, and I think it’s going to be finished soon,” Daisy said. “All he has to do is put it together and paint it, I think.”
Mrs. Haley said she is “so proud” of her daughter for wanting to help other students feel included.
“It didn’t really surprise me because she’s really been enjoying learning to do some woodworking with Paw Paw, and she’s that kid that wants to make sure everybody is included, that none of the children get left out,” she said. “Her teachers have always told us that if there’s a kid in the class that’s upset, she goes over and puts her arms around them and makes them feel better so it didn’t surprise me.”
Building the bench “checked every box for me” as far as being the perfect summer project, Mrs. Haley said.
“She was doing something for her community,” she said. “She was learning a new skill. I mean, working with the power tools gave her so much self-confidence that she could do that. And then she got to spend all this time with her grandfather, which I know those are just going to be priceless memories for her.”
Daisy’s dad said he was “just amazed” by his daughter’s giving spirit.
“She’s constantly surprising us with the stuff that’s not prompted,” he said. “She just wants to do good for others. A lot of the things she says all the time are just so genuine. You don’t hear that from a lot of kids so we’re as happy as we can be about it.”
Heater said Daisy is a “wonderful” student who has “never met a stranger here at White Elementary.”
“She always puts others first before herself, and she would’ve been the perfect kiddo to start this because, like I said, she never meets a stranger,” she said.