WEST COLUMBIA, SC -- When Sarah-Katherine Cantrell was a kindergartener at Springdale Elementary, the playground was sometimes a lonely place. She would wish for someone to talk with.
Then-Principal Shane Thackston -- who “never met a stranger and had a way of making everyone smile,” according to Sarah-Katherine -- would often cheer her and make her laugh.
Today, Sarah-Katherine is a soft-spoken and confident fifth-grader.
But she never forgot those days on the playground -- or Mr. Thackston.
Friday at Springdale Elementary, Sarah-Katherine unveiled in front of fellow fifth-graders a Buddy Bench for the school’s playground, where students can sit and signal others that they’re looking for someone to talk with or play with.
“We all get busy with our friends and games, and we forget there may be someone who does not have something to do or a friend,” Sarah-Katherine told those gathered at Friday’s event.
She pitched the bench project this past spring to the Lexington Two School Board -- to include a Buddy Bench not only at Springdale but at all of Lexington Two’s elementary schools. Donna and Travis Crumpton, owners of D & T Steel in Pelion, created benches themed to each of the district’s schools and donated them at no cost.
At Springdale, the bench is named “Mr. Thackston’s Buddy Bench,” flanked by the school’s dolphin mascot, to honor the much-beloved principal who passed away in 2017.
Several members of Thackston’s family were on hand Friday to help unveil the new bench -- his wife Victoria, children Mackenzie and Turner, and parents TIp and Carol. In addition to fifth-graders, others attending the event included members of Sarah-Katherine’s family, school administrators and teachers, several Lexington Two board members and others.
While the Buddy Bench project is part of Sarah-Katherine’s “Be the Difference” platform from her win at the Little Miss United States South Carolina event, it means much more.
“This is an extraordinary act by an extraordinary student,” Principal Hope Vrana said of Sarah-Katherine’s outreach to kids who might need a helping hand, adding, “I can’t think of another act that makes such a difference.”
“I think by doing this,” she said, “we can make a difference in someone’s day.”