National Bonner Congress inspires ‘big ideas’

By Matt Howell

Rider’s Bonner Scholars gathered in the Yvonne Theater for the Congress’ opening ceremony.

Bonner Scholar representatives from around the country gathered at Rider last weekend for the Fall 2011 Bonner Congress: The Change Exchange and left with new ideas for service projects and newfound connections.
“It’s great to see that people are really trying to help out others and give back to the community,” said Kate Webster, a freshman at Rider. “Without compassionate people, I can’t imagine what the world would be like.”
The Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation strives “to partner with campuses in order to catalyze campus-wide engagement in community service, build a culture and infrastructure for sustained campus-community partnerships and to promote students’ leadership and development through civic engagement,” according to Annie Pasqua, associate director of Campus Life for Service Learning. Rider’s BonnerScholars are expected to perform a total of 300 community service hours a year, including eight to 10 hours of service a week.
Two student representatives from 50 of the 75 colleges within the Bonner Network attended this year’s Congress. Thomas Saladino, Sylwia Denko and Chris Mari-Davis were Rider’s designated Bonner representatives. A total of 200 students, including Rider Bonner Scholars, participated in workshops, planning sessions, social activities and chances to network, according to Pasqua.
“The weekend was a huge success,” Pasqua said. “Participants left inspired to return to their campus to spread what we like to call Bonner Love and deepen the impact on their campus and in the communities in which they serve.”
The “Big Idea” program was the center of the Congress in which each college presents its Big Idea. The goal of the program is to develop “a range of ideas for improving and enhancing the Bonner Program and service more broadly in their campus communities,” according to the Bonner Network Wiki. Rider’s Big Idea was “to develop an international service trip component into our program,” Pasqua said.
Elective workshops were also available to students during the Congress. Eight of the workshops were facilitated by Rider Bonner Scholars, according to Pasqua. They were: “Aligning Your Values in Service” by Laura Seplaki; “Working to End Homelessness: A Problem Solving Approach” by Tara Taylor; “Bonner Team: ITCH” by Joe Landolfi and Adam Rebhun; “Campus Sustainability” by Amanda Pinto; “Hate Crime Awareness” by Karen Ortman; “Reading Social Justice into Reality: Using Creative Works to Inspire Change” by Elizabeth Newman; “Breaking the Language Barrier to Build Community” by Sarah Perez-Klausner; and “Food Stamp Outreach” by Tommy Saladino, Victor Barton and Kelly Bernard.

Bonner representatives from across the country discussed their “big ideas” for community service during a planning workshop at the Fall 2011 Bonner Congress: The Change Exchange.

Other highlights included a speech by Rider Bonner Scholar Loni Chasar about her philanthropic work with Enable Inc., a nonprofit organization that tries to improve the lives of underprivileged children through education; a performance by The SHARE Project; a performing arts troupe from the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen; and a talent show.
Students enjoyed the networking opportunities the Congress provided.
“I think the Bonner Congress is a wonderful way to get connected and network with people that have the same interest in community service as you,” said Stephanie Granderson, of the University of Richmond.
The Bonner students stayed in a number of places over the weekend. The students were housed in Switlik, University House, Ziegler/New Building, Phi Sigma Sigma, Hill, Kroner, Conover, Olson, Wright, Poyda, Lake House and West Village. Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton, and the home of Rev. Wayne Meisel, the founding president of The Bonner Foundation, served as off-campus housing.
Rider was chosen earlier this year to host the Bonner Congress meeting. Over the summer, students involved in the program began planning as a small student leadership team. The students were responsible for the logistics of the event such as room reservations, food, shuttles and housing, in addition to organizing the actual program itself.
Non-Rider Bonner Scholars appreciated the outcome of that hard work.
“This has definitely been a really great experience,” said Chole Imus, a student from North Carolina University. “Rider has been great and really accommodating. It was so nice of the hosts to take us in.”

Additional reporting by Rachel Stengel and Katie Zeck.

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