By Allie Ward
As the typical American endures the rush-hour traffic on his drive home from work, on his way to a comfortable home and a hot meal, over 3 million others are scrounging for scraps of food in the streets, rifling through dumpsters for anything that will block out the cold, spending ruthless nights in their cars and doing what they can to survive. They are the people who experience homelessness each year.
A partnership that emphasizes one of the university’s core values, “Leadership is derived from service to others,” was launched when the Rider Community Scholars Bonner Foundation (RCS) affiliated with Habitat for Humanity this semester, where volunteers can help build decent, affordable housing for low-income individuals and families.
Annie Pasqua, the new assistant director of campus life for service learning, works directly with the Bonner Scholars, 51 students on campus who volunteer eight to 10 hours a week at various partner agencies. This year, she said, the partnerships were expanded to include Habitat for Humanity and Enable, an organization that works with people with disabilities. Other service sites include HomeFront, Mercer Street Friends, El Centro and Minding Our Business.
“Service learning is the learning that comes from doing community service,” Pasqua said. “It’s connecting that service to either your life or what you’re learning in the classroom.”
The university stresses the importance of integrating service into education through RCS. The program is open to incoming freshmen as well as current students and is part of a national network of schools across the country. Students are placed at different sites to complete their community service.
The new partnership with Habitat for Humanity is one that Pasqua feels will flourish at Rider.
“There seems to be a big interest in working with Habitat for Humanity and building homes,” she said.
Senior Mike Wallenburg, a secondary education and math dual major, has also been involved with RCS since his freshman year. He serves as the Habitat for Humanity site-based team leader and works with a group of four other Rider students. The goal is to build up urban neighborhoods plagued by homelessness.
“Trenton had its time and its day and once was a beautiful city with a lot of industry and wealth, but over the past few decades it has been falling rapidly,” Wallenburg said. “I come from Camden, which used to be one of the wealthiest cities. It needs a revival. If you bring up the value of the whole community, the people will benefit from it.”
Homelessness is a problem Wallenburg has experienced firsthand.
“I was homeless for a period and I really reflect on it,” he said. “That’s just another reason I got involved in [Habitat].”
RCS began its partnership with Habitat this September, but it will take a few months to get to the actual building, Wallenburg said, because of scheduling.
“My four team members and I are going to attend trainings with Home Depot because they want us to be certified go-to people on the site,” he said.
In addition, Wallenburg explained, Habitat “builds,” which are what the sites of the building projects are called, “book up very fast, so we’re doing a lot of setting up for next year.”
The goal, Pasqua said, is to host a Habitat build on Rider’s Lawrenceville campus, and then move the completed home to its destination. In 2000, Rider sponsored a similar event where the entire campus community helped build the first stages of a home for a Trenton family.
“Rider eventually wants to sponsor a house and have different student organizations help with it and possibly build it on campus,” Pasqua said. “We’re in the first planning stages with that, though.”
Freshman Tara Taylor, a psychology major, is a first-year Bonner student and another member of RCS’s Habitat for Humanity team.
“The best way to serve people is to get to the problems of homelessness, hunger, education and housing,” Taylor said. “[There are] a lot of soup kitchens around the country, and there are always donations for gifts and clothing, but I’ve seen very few structured efforts to deal with homelessness at its root cause.”
Taylor, whose father is a contractor, had always wanted to participate with Habitat for Humanity and jumped at the chance when she came to Rider.
“I really enjoy community service and I’ve been doing it for a long time,” she said. “[RCS] is a good way to not only get involved in the Lawrence and Trenton communities, but I also get to do it with other students who feel the same way I do about service.”
Though most people assume the builds are the main event, Habitat for Humanity also features a tutoring program, a food pantry and a clothing and coat drive.
“We help with the distribution of food, [and] we’re responsible for collection of clothing and gifts in the winter and mentoring and after-school tutoring for some of the kids,” Taylor said.
Wallenburg stressed that anyone, not just RCS students, is welcome to participate in community service with RCS.
“It’s not specifically a Bonner thing,” he said. “It’s a Rider community thing [for] anyone that wants to do any kind of community service. We are willing to take people to our sites.”
Senior Nicole Addesso, an accounting major who has been involved with RCS since her freshman year, logs her hours at El Centro, an after-school program for Latino youths in Trenton.
“I wanted to give back to my community,” Addesso said. “I did some things in high school, but not a lot, and it felt like a good decision to help people and myself, too.”
Performing community service is not only a valuable experience, but also a way to become exposed to different types of lifestyles, Addesso said.
“[Community service] teaches you to be more open to other cultures and ways of doing things,” she said. “The kids come from such different backgrounds and such different lives; it teaches you to be more open.”
Taylor said that students should start small and know that everyone’s work together will make a big impact.
“There are a lot of different ways for you to make a difference,” she said. “You don’t necessarily have to build a house to truly put a stop to homelessness and build up property value in Trenton area.”
On Sunday, Oct. 25, KatManDu in Trenton is hosting a Battle of the Bands to benefit the Trenton-area Habitat for Humanity. Admission is $10 and there will be door prizes and a raffle. The event is 21 and over only and will run from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. For more information or to buy tickets, visit www.habitatta.org.