Steven Cozza’s nonprofit Race for Kids has teamed up with students in the metal shop program at Petaluma High School in a project to help elementary school students show the same spirit of cooperation.

Cozza is planning to place Petaluma High-manufactured Buddy Benches in Petaluma-area elementary schools. “My goal is to have a Buddy Bench in every Petaluma school,” he said.

The Buddy Bench concept is simple but powerful. Children who are feeling alone or left out sit on the Buddy Bench where other students or adults can join them for talk or invite them to join in games or play.

“Buddy Benches give kids an opportunity to help other kids and start a dialogue between kids,” Cozza said.

Cozza has a personal interest in the project. He explained that, as a youngster, he struggled with reading and writing and had a speech impediment that made him feel left out. He sees the Buddy Benches as a way to prevent students from having the same hurtful experiences.

A Petaluma Realtor, the former professional bicyclist funded the first six benches himself, donating $500 from each property transaction to pay for the benches.

Dunham School parents have chipped in to provide for a Buddy Bench at their school.

After coming up with the idea, Cozza approached Petaluma High metal shop teacher Dan Sunia to enlist his support. The partnership not only keeps the cost of the benches affordable, it allows the high school students to buy into a community project that helps the younger kids.

“Having the high school metal shop make the benches has cut down substantially on the total cost, and it is a great learning experience for them,” said Cozza.

Sunia said the high school students are excited about the project.

“They have really bought into it,” he reported. “Doing a project like this really means something to them. It makes it personal.”

Although past Petaluma High metal technology classes have built benches that are located in various parts of the community, Sunia said this one is different, requiring the engineering class to design and draw up plans for the benches from scratch. The school benches also required a new setup and retooling.

“It has helped the students learn the sequence of how things are made,” Sunia said. “It has made them aware of all the details involved and the accuracy they have to maintain.”

The teacher said he hopes to have a couple of more benches made this semester by his advanced class of second- and third-year metal technology students.

The first Buddy Bench will be installed Oct. 3 at McKinley School.

Persons wishing to help with the installation of Buddy Benches at other schools can make an online donation at www.raceforkids.org/buddybench/.