Mandan teens build bench to help Project Armchair expand into state penitentiary

Published: Dec. 29, 2021 at 2:11 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Vonda Dahl is passionate about literacy. She is a teacher turned literacy coordinator and the founder of Project Armchair.

Project Armchair is a nonprofit organization that connects volunteers to read with children in the community. They’ve given away more than 2,500 books in the past five years.

Now, the program is expanding.

What started out as just reading to kids in homeless shelters, has spread to kids who are in the hospital, and now to the state penitentiary.

This space is everything Vonda Dahl dreamed of, and more. From the books on the shelf, to the mural and the bench.

“It’s just beautiful,” said Dahl. “It is designed to look like a sofa. The idea is that a dad and a child can sit side by side, and they can have that physical closeness.”

The bench was designed and built by three recent Mandan high school graduates.

“It’s just fun to build different things,” said Riley Engelstad.

“They received nothing in return, no pay no extra credit. But they were on board,” explained Dahl.

“I love helping out community and everything,” added Lucas Fleck.

The teens were happy to build this bench, and to create something that might help others.

“Growing up I always had my parents around, and I couldn’t imagine what’s it like to not have your parents around, so I mean taking that opportunity to help those kids and those parents out means a lot,” said Ian Eiles.

“For a brief moment, a father and a child could pretend they were at home in their living room,” said Dahl.

And if only for a few moments, time on this bench with a good book might give parents and children a break from reality and a precious memory they’ll treasure forever.

Project Armchair relies on donations to give books to all kids they read with. If you’d like to learn more, or donate books, you can get more information on their Facebook page or on their website,

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