The Brawner Elementary School playground was packed Friday afternoon as Brawner staff and students gathered to honor the memory of 9-year-old Levi Shaw, who passed away last August.
“You always knew Levi was coming or going by the way he walked,” said Brawner Principal Jincy Ross during the memorial. “He was always on his toes and always in a hurry to get to the next big thing. He always had a story to tell that could make us laugh."
Ross then addressed Levi’s mother, Camie Rose Shaw, and brother, Cody, who is a kindergartener at Brawner.
“Cody and Camie know that we will keep Levi’s memory alive here at Brawner and you can count on that,” Ross added.
As a way of honoring Levi, a new “Buddy Bench” was installed at the playground. The bench features two silhouettes of children playing and is painted in green, which was Levi’s favorite color. The plaque on the bench reads “In Loving Memory of Levi Shaw, Forever in Our Hearts.”
According to pollyproducts.com, Buddy Benches were invented to combat loneliness and bullying in schools. Sometimes called a ‘friendship bench,’ these benches are provided on school playgrounds as a way for students to signal to others that they are feeling lonely, isolated, and need a friend to play with or someone to talk to. The bench allows other children on the playground to clearly see when another kid needs support or a friend, and they can join them on the bench for a chat or invite them to play.
The idea for the “Buddy Bench” came from two of Levi’s closest friends.
“They said, ‘We really want something on the playground for Levi because that was his favorite thing — he loved the playground, and he loved to play,’” said Sandy Ruiz, assistant principal at Brawner. “I let them pick out everything. We saw it online, and of course, it looked amazing, but when it came in, we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, it looks so much better,’ because if you look at one of the little boys, it looks just like Levi."
During the memorial, Levi’s former teachers spoke about his kindness and his love for video games and doughnuts.
“I always remember his kind heart and wanting to help and be a friend to everyone,” said Lesha Coker, Levi’s kindergarten teacher. “Levi always came to school with a smile and a ‘good morning Mrs. Coker.’ He loved to be my helper, even if it was just taking something to the teacher next door. Levi will continue to live in our hearts. We loved him, and he loved us. I will never be able to wear green again and not think of sweet Levi.”
Coker then recited a poem taken from a headstone in Ireland.
“Death leaves a heartache that no one can heal, love leaves a memory that no one can steal,” she recited.
“May the memories of sweet Levi continue to put a smile on our heart. To the family: we love Levi. To his classmates: he loved you. Thank you for the memories and sharing him with us.”
Melissa Smith had Levi in her class for two years. She said while he was in her class, he showed her and his classmates “what happiness was and what kindness was because he was a friend to everybody.”
She also recited a quote from Winnie the Pooh: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
“Even though we're sad, and we miss our friend,” Smith continued, “we have to consider ourselves lucky to have known him, to have known his smile, and to have known his laugh and his friendship. Levi, above anything else, was kind. I'm honored to have had Levi in my life, and I'm proud that his legacy of kindness will continue with our new ‘Buddy Bench.'”
Kendall Wilson was Levi’s third grade teacher last year. She began by saying that Levi was “the type of student that the moment you met him, you just knew that you would remember him forever.”
“Levi was kind, funny, and extremely loving,” Wilson continued. “I love that we have a bench dedication to honor Levi's memory because it reminds me of the many times that he and I shared a bench together during chilly recesses trying to get warm. We shared special moments chatting about life and his favorite thing: video games. My favorite memories of Levi are the random moments throughout the day when he would come and give me a hug out of the blue or look at me and say ‘Miss Wilson, I love you.’ I will never forget the sound of his voice or Levi walking through my door each morning with a sleepy smile and doughnuts in his hand. Though he may not be here with us physically, we are so lucky that his legacy lives on in our memory. We're so lucky to now have a green ‘Buddy Bench’ for other students to chat and enjoy life, just like he and I did so many different times last year.”
Several of Levi’s friends also spoke during the memorial, saying “He always knew how to brighten my day,” “I loved his funny jokes,” “You will always be in my heart,” “I miss you,” “I hope you have all the doughnuts where you're at,” and “You were always so kind."
Students then sang “The Gummy Bear Song,” and each grabbed a green balloon. They shouted the Brawner motto, followed by a chorus of “We love you, Levi!” before releasing the balloons to the sky.
The memorial was followed by a reception that served chocolate doughnuts with sprinkles and chocolate milk — Levi’s favorites.
Through the many tears, hugs, and sadness emanating from the Brawner Elementary School playground Friday afternoon, one emotion continued to stand out above all the rest — love.
Levi Shaw touched the hearts of many, and the “Buddy Bench” will forever be a tribute to him and his love for others.
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