College wins national service distinction

Creating a Web site for local immigrants to e-mail their families at home, integrating a leadership workshop for inner-city kids with a college basketball game and teaching Trenton elementary school students how to create a business plan are just a few examples of the work some students at the College are doing to improve their community.

For its emphasis on community service, the College was named to the federal President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction last week. The College is the only New Jersey institution to receive this award, the highest federal recognition for community service.

According to Pat Donohue, director of the Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement, the College received the award for the integration of the Bonner Community Scholars program with the community engaged learning program for freshmen.

“We utilized one group of student leaders, the Bonner scholars, to help us identify the issues of interest to the freshmen and to mobilize them,” Donohue said. “We were developing the leadership skills for one group of students while they mobilized others to learn more about their community and have a positive impact.”

One aspect of the College’s community service program that may have qualified it for the award is integrating first seminar program (FSP) classes with community service projects.

In the FSP “Living in a Virtual World,” for example, students created a Web site for residents of Trenton service organization El Centro, on South Broad street in Trenton.

The Web site allows users who are immigrants or have families in Latin and South America to e-mail them.

Roberto Hernandez, director of El Centro, said the Web site will help residents save money on long-distance phone calls as well as keep them connected with their hometowns.

“Without the students we wouldn’t be able to fully run some of the mentoring programs we run for our youth,” Hernandez said. “They’re phenomenal in their dedication and their respect that they have for the clients.”

Hernandez said students help out by driving vans, teaching English as a Second Language courses and mentoring the youth in the program.

“This partnership has been wonderful,” he said. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”

Todd Stoner, a senior at the College and Bonner scholar, agreed.

“We are connecting what we do in the community in the classrooms,” he said. “That is the ultimate goal.”

Stoner, a political science major, is currently researching what policies the Trenton municipal government has in regard to the homeless. He said he hopes to come back and work for the Bonner Center after he graduates.

“The problems in Trenton are grave,” he said.

Another community service opportunity for freshmen and Bonner scholars integrates basketball with leadership and mentorship. Donohue said the College athletic department gets involved, bringing students from Trenton to the campus for a basketball workout run by a coach, as well as homework help and a leadership workshop put on by students. They later all attend a men’s basketball game together.

“(The College) is an institution that really puts its values that we have as a public institution into action,” Donohue said. “We really try to put together a series of experiences so our students graduate as engaged and active citizens.”