Budget cuts would hurt Rider service program

By Dalton Karwacki

The latest federal spending proposal from Republicans in the House of Representatives would, if approved, strip much of the funding from the Rider Bonner Community Scholars program, according to Annie Pasqua, assistant director of Campus Life for Service Learning.

Students involved with Rider’s Bonner Community Scholar Program stand at the site of one of their service projects. A recent federal spending proposal would defund the program.

When the House Republicans unveiled their latest budget proposal on Feb. 19, they planned to cut federal spending by $61 billion. The vast majority of these savings comes from either partially cutting or completely eliminating funding from domestic programs. One of the programs eliminated in the proposal is AmeriCorps, which funds scholarships for Bonner students.

“If the AmeriCorps funding is cut, we will no longer have funding for those positions,” said Pasqua. “Funding for the people in the program now would remain intact, but it would have an impact on our future.”

The Bonner program is a national community service scholarship program with about 45 student members at Rider. During an academic year, students are expected to complete 300 hours of community service. For their service, members receive a scholarship of $1,132. According to Pasqua, Rider only funds about eight of these scholarships, with the rest coming from an organization known as AmeriCorps.

The Bonner scholars at Rider participate in a number of partnerships across Mercer County, each one focused on a different issue. These partnerships have students working with after-school programs, the Boys and Girls Club, HomeFront and Trenton Area Soup Kitchen. According to Pasqua, the program has also helped to start several service programs.

AmeriCorps is a national community service organization. According to its website, the organization focuses on several areas, including tutoring and mentoring disadvantaged youth, fighting illiteracy, improving health services, building affordable housing and managing after-school programs.

“Each year, AmeriCorps offers 75,000 opportunities for adults of all ages and backgrounds to serve through a network of partnerships with local and national nonprofit groups,” the website says.

The House Republicans’ proposal, which is not a budget proposal but a continuing resolution, would last until the end of the fiscal year or until a formal budget decision can be reached. It passed the Republican-controlled House last Saturday along a party-line vote, but even if the resolution passes the still-Democratic Senate, President Obama has threatened to veto it. While this will most likely not become law, the possibility still exists that whatever agreement Congress does reach will still eliminate or cut AmeriCorps funding.

Freshman Sylwia Denko, a member of the Bonner program, said that working with the program benefits the students involved in addition to the community.

“In the Bonner Program we work, not just as individual volunteers, but as a group,” she said. “We call it a ‘site team’ and together we work on making our site the best it can be. Also, we learn communication and cooperation, which are two very important aspects of life.”

“We’ve worked with The English School, which offers low-cost ESL classes for adults and we’ve piloted a youth program for that,” she said. “We’ve also started a food stamp outreach program, helping individuals in Mercer County enroll in food stamps.”

The Bonner program has been at Rider for the past 11 years, though nationally it has existed for the past 20. Rider is one of 81 schools across the country with Bonner scholars.

According to Denko, the program is too important to the community to dismantle.

“The program should remain intact because it is a group of about 50 students who help the community,” she said. “Having 50 students support areas that need support is 50 times better than having no one.”

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