Though the College is mere minutes away from Trenton, most students aren’t exposed to the community within the city limits. This is not the case with alumnus Todd Stoner. The class of ’08 graduate and former Bonner Scholar has dedicated himself as an advocate for community service with a passion for helping others.
Growing up in Colts Neck, N.J., Stoner became interested in giving back to the community when first applying to the College.
“Before I applied to (the College) I was really nervous because my SAT scores were low but I was involved in lots of extracurricular activities,” Stoner said. “I created a summit during my junior year in high school and invited every school in Monmouth County to raise awareness and reduce violence and racism in N.J. schools.”
It was this summit that earned Stoner an award that bolstered his chances to attend the College.
“When I won my high school summit award, I got accepted into (the College) and two days later I got invited to apply for the Bonner scholarship, it was all surreal,” Stoner said.
During his first year, Stoner volunteered at the Crisis Ministry in Trenton through the Bonner Center. The location served as a food bank helping people at risk of becoming homeless. The organization gave a monthly food subsidy and occasionally provided free food. Additionally, some people were awarded grants to pay for their homes and appliances.
“It was definitely an eye-opening experience,” Stoner said. “It also surprised me about how people were affected by changes in government. People in poverty were being cut off from resources, like welfare, and didn’t know about adequate resources that were available to them.”
During his first year Stoner picked up a double major of international studies and political science and started taking classes on social justice
“One class I took, “Myth and Realities of Poverty in America,” made me aware of the bad situations people grow up in,” Stoner said. “Before I was very patriotic and would never criticize my own country . ever. But from freshman year of college and so forth, I became more critical of social injustice.”
During Stoner’s sophomore year, he volunteered at a Trenton agency called the Capital South Neighborhood Preservation Program. There he became involved with a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance center, an organization aiding people with filing tax returns.
“In Trenton there were many undocumented immigrants that could get help and could receive a tax return but they didn’t know that since no one in the community advised them,” Stoner said. “There was money being lost that could have helped out these poor people.”
Before Stoner even stepped foot into College, he found inspiration through his parents, who lived in Chile for four years. Looking back at their experiences, Stoner wanted to see what they saw. Soon enough, he studied abroad in Chile during his junior year and volunteered in homeless shelters in Valparaiso.
“I became friends with hard working homeless men,” Stoner said. “I was inspired by them because they broke every stereotype of the homeless person. They weren’t alcoholics and were really well educated with college degrees. Eventually they got screwed over by corporations. Yet they were still living a content life.”
After Stoner’s trip from Chile, he came back even more frustrated for families living in poverty and no one willing to stand up for them.
At the end of his College career, Stoner interned at the Bonner Center, helping coordinate community engaged learning days and eventually was invited to stay around for a while longer as a staff member.
“This job is great. I do extra student development work and do student training and organize the Bonner scholars trips where we do social justice programs,” Stoner said. “I think what I’ll probably end up doing is doing some sort of community service work for the rest of my life and become a potential lobbyist for the poor.”
Although he already graduated, Stoner still has a few words of advice for College students.
“I believe there could be a much larger activist spirit to stand up for what’s right. (College) students could be more enthusiastic and passionate about community service,” Stoner said. “But from what I’ve seen over the years, that passion is growing.”
Stoner urged students to look past Trenton stereotypes and embrace the community within.
“Everyone comes to the College concerned about its location and safety when in fact people should be excited for Trenton’s diversity,” he said. “(The College’s) responsibility is not only to educate but also have students understand the social issues affecting average people and inspire students to become involved in their community.”