Centre’s Bonner Program places first-year students
Among the typical fall-term conversations about mid-terms and the upcoming fall break, other important conversations are being had by first-year Bonner students: in particular, where they will be performing up to 2,000 hours of community service in the years ahead.
Centre currently hosts up to 60 Bonner students on campus, each of whom have a specific service site they work at every week. Bonners are dedicated to addressing a variety of social issues, including poverty, diversity, access to education and/or healthcare and community development. Bonners work to solve these problems in the Danville and Boyle County community through eight to 10 hours of community service per week—a hefty commitment when added to demanding course loads and extracurricular activities.
Matthew Klooster, Director of Community Service and the Bonner Program and Assistant Professor of Biology, explains that these first-year service site placements are not made lightly.
“These placements are the culmination of conversations that I have, not only with various community partners about their needs, but with Bonners about their preferences for service sites,” he explains. “Mark [Addison ’13, current Community Service Coordinator] and I sort of play matchmaker between the two groups.”
For Klooster, matching first-year students with a potential service site can be challenging. The most critical question is what the student feels he or she needs from the service project.
“Some people really need to have that personal interaction with the people they’re helping,” he adds, “and others don’t. It’s important to know what students need to get back from their service so that they stay motivated.”
In cases where students have a unique goal or service idea, Klooster helps forge new community connections and empowers students to pursue their service goals. He stresses that these placements are made with the objective of long-term service commitments.
“Ultimately, it’s the goal of the program to put students in service sites that result in long-term relationships,” he says. “We want to put our Bonners in a position where after a year or more of service, they’re functioning to actually improve the capacity of an organization, to transform it in a positive way.
“It’s been shown through best practices that the longer students are placed with a community partner, the greater the likelihood that they will be placed in and engage in roles that are transformative to the organization,” Klooster continues. “This could involve writing grants, expanding an organization to surrounding counties or communities, or restructuring a nonprofit’s finances.”
Though these initial meetings may not seem important to first-year Bonners now, the decisions made in the coming week have great potential for transforming these students’ futures.
“The experience they get in the world of non-profits is priceless for their advancement in that field,” Klooster notes. “They learn about interpersonal communication, conflict management, addressing challenging social issues—these are invaluable skills for the workplace, no matter what the field.
“The resume these students carry into the workplace is unreal,” he continues. “They often log over 2,000 hours of service at a number of different service sites—it’s one of the things that sets the resume of our students apart, well and beyond the resumes of others.”
In addition to the work of placing the incoming class of Bonners, Klooster is also busy reading applications (accepted until October 7) for the 15 new positions in the Bonner Program that have opened to first-year and sophomore students. He stresses that the Bonner program is open to any Centre first-year or sophomore, not just those with financial need.
“There’s a misconception that all Bonners are receiving scholarships,” Klooster says, “when in reality less than half of them are. The only requirement for participating in the program is having a serious passion for service.”
One such Bonner student is Regan Devlin ’17, who has been placed at the Heart of Kentucky United Way.
“I chose it because I have an interest in community building,” she explains. “I saw it as a good way to better understand the community of Danville, since the United Way works with many non-profits throughout the community.”
Though she just recently began volunteering at the United Way, she already feels a strong connection, both to the Danville community and to the Bonner Program.
“Bonner has thus far offered me innumerable resources to reach out to the community,” she says, “and the way the program is structured allows me to grow within these organizations. There is also a strong sense of family within the Bonner program that I really appreciate.”
For Klooster, the Bonner Program is the perfect fit for many Centre students because it embodies Centre’s values and expectations.
“There is a culture of service on Centre’s campus,” he explains. “More than that, Bonner reaffirms Centre’s commitment to experiential learning. Going out into the community, seeing what makes it tick, learning its struggles and how to work with all members of that community are all opportunities to experience the world around us and educate ourselves in the process.
“Centre has a strong commitment to this kind of educational process,” he continues, “and that is really the cornerstone of the Bonner Program.”
by Mariel Smith
Oct. 3, 2013