Bonner Center wins higher ed. service award

Members of the Bonner Center recently traveled to Washington D.C. to be honored as recipients of the 2010 Higher Education Civic Service Award.

The College’s Bonner Center for Community and Civic Engagement was among six institutions across the country to receive recognition from The Washington Center for internships and academic seminars.

On Monday Oct. 4, the group spent time in the nation’s capital, where they attended a luncheon at the National Press Club and a gala at the National Building Museum.

“I was excited for everyone at the College and our partner organizations, who have worked so hard over the last few years to be excellent educators and agents for positive change in the community,” Pat Donohue, director of the Bonner Center, said. “We rarely have a moment to stop and take stock of how much we are doing and why. It was great to take a day and celebrate in D.C. I think it put a little bit more fuel in all our tanks to keep plugging away.”

Donohue was not the only one excited about the Center’s award. Student scholars of the Bonner Center also reflected on the achievement.

“This award is well deserved. Each year I am inspired by the staff’s commitment to improving the ways that the program develops students into civically engaged leaders and simultaneously makes a tremendous impact on the local community,” said Justin Freedman, senior history and secondary education major, Bonner Scholar, and member of the education team, where members of the Bonner Center focus their volunteer efforts.

“As students, we are asked to bring our passion to the table every day and are empowered with the freedom to use that passion to create projects that are our own,” Freedman said. “My passion for improving education in high-poverty schools would just be an untapped interest if not for Bonner. I have been transformed from an idle observer to an advocate for children and education reform.”

Similarly, Kathrine Avila, junior international studies major, is passionate about bettering the education in impoverished school systems. The reason behind her involvement stems from a personal connection with the cause.

“Winning a national award for the service we do in my very own town, Trenton, means a lot to me,” said Avila, site leader for the high school education team. “Trenton residents, specifically kids, need people that really believe in them and their city. I was a product of the service the Bonner Scholars gave at my high school and for that I’m very thankful.”

“In my years as a Bonner, I have been able to see that our program has helped make this city a better place,” Avila said. “I am very proud of our program.”

The Bonner Community Scholars spend time involved in local projects, but also branch out nationally and globally.

“The key is (our) unique student leadership model,” Donohue said. “Bonners form 12-issue based teams and each one works closely with a specific non profit partner organization. These teams develop and implement a one year plan that addresses a range of needs.”

These teams focus on everything from juvenile corrections to education to hunger. There is even an immigration team that spends time teaching language classes to Hispanic families in the surrounding area.

The teams then organize Community Engaged Learning (CEL) days and projects that all first-year students must complete. This encompasses nearly 40 projects where students, the Bonner Center and professors work together.

“The Center tries to cultivate the common ground between the College’s civic and educational missions with the needs and interests of the local community,” Donohue said. “We try to develop innovative opportunities for professors and students while addressing some of society’s most challenging problems, such as hunger, homelessness and recidivism.”

Even after students graduate, their lives continue to be influenced by their involvement in the program. Esther Brahmi graduated in 2010 and believes that not only did the Bonner program shape her undergraduate years, but it has played an integral role in her life post-graduation. She currently works for the center and plans on pursuing a career helping those who are disadvantaged.

“I think that winning this award is a huge milestone for all of the people who have made a commitment to Bonner over the years,” Brahmi said. “We have such strong corps of people dedicated to service and the success of the program. It is very rewarding to see that our work is being noticed by others so that they too may follow our lead in serving those less fortunate.”

According to Donohue, prospective projects include partnering with a nonprofit in Nicaragua, forming a Trenton Central High School team, co-directing a prison education program, and creating CEL projects for upper level classes.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the Bonner Center aimed high,” said Ryan Pilarski, sophomore philosophy major, Bonner Scholar, and member of the juvenile justice team. “In fact, I’m sure many thought the center was taking on too much in too little time. We have far more to give and to keep giving. Around communities the impact of our service can be both felt and seen – a rare accomplishment for a school of our size.

“We know we’re not the only ones doing this service of bettering our world, but we’ve done community service our way,” Pilarski said. “We’ve dug out a niche, or several, in New Jersey and it makes us all proud to know that others can see it too.”