Sammie Vance

Blackhawk Middle School sixth-grader Sammie Vance received the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes.

Sammie Vance, the 11-year-old Fort Wayne sixth-grader who has received international recognition for spreading kindness through her Buddy Bench bottle cap recycling project, has received another national award.

Vance was awarded a Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, which honors inspiring young people, ages 8-18. The prize, awarded on Sept. 14, includes $10,000 to be used in support of her service work or for higher education.

Established in 2001 by author T.A. Barron, a popular writer of children’s and young adult fiction, the Barron Prize annually honors 25 outstanding young leaders who have significantly made a positive impact on people, their communities, and the environment.

Barron launched the award, celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020, in honor of his mother, Gloria, a teacher who cared deeply about children and her community. The foundation has honored 498 students since its inception, and the honored students have raised over $24 million to assist their communities and charities. Vance was one of 25 students honored in 2020, and one of 15 students to receive the $10,000 cash award.

“I am honored to get this award because it means that the word is spreading about kindness and Buddy Benches, and more friends are being made. I am happy to be able to inspire others. You don’t have to be an adult to make a difference. You can be a kid, too,” said Vance.

Sammie’s Buddy Bench project, which launched when Vance was 8 and a third-grader at Haley Elementary School, designates a special bench on a playground where a child can go sit when they are feeling lonely, signaling to other kids that they need someone to play with. The bench can also serve as a safe spot for bullied children, letting an adult know that a child may need assistance. The Buddy Benches are funded and produced through the recycling of bottle caps, which are then converted into benches.

Vance, now a sixth-grade student at Blackhawk Middle School, has received numerous accolades for the Buddy Bench project. She was named a 2020 Diana Award recipient earlier this year, receiving recognition from a United Kingdom foundation that honors the legacy of Princess Diana, advancing work in anti-bullying measures. Award recipients are recognized by Prince William and Prince Harry. She was also featured in the July issue of Highlights magazine as a Gallant Kid.

Vance recently presented a Buddy Bench to the City of Fort Wayne, and it has been placed in Promenade Park. She continues to assist other schools and organizations around the country in the collection of bottle caps and production of Buddy Benches, with the goal of every school in the country having a Buddy Bench to help spread kindness.

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