New Bonner Scholars engage in summer service project
For the ninth year in a row, rising first-year Centre College Bonner students visited Caretta, W. Va., for an annual service trip. While helping to improve living conditions in the town during their June visit, the new Bonner Scholars joined the impressive group of more than 85% of Centre students who volunteer on a regular basis.
Centre’s Bonner Program is a network of 60 students on campus (and thousands nationwide) dedicated to alleviating poverty and improving education through active community service and civic engagement. For Director of Community Service and the Bonner Program Matthew Klooster, the first-year summer experience is also an important opportunity for student growth.
“The trip is meant to be a bonding experience, an opportunity to explore a new part of the country or a new social issue they haven’t discovered yet,” he said.
Trips to Caretta, originally initiated by Special Assistant to the President Patrick Noltemeyer when he was director of the Bonner Program, involve working with the local organization Big Creek People in Action. A formerly wealthy town during the height of coal mining, many local jobs have disappeared, leading to widespread poverty in the region. Students assist with everything from painting to drywalling to hosting a cookout for the community members.
“When I came onboard the Bonner Program two years ago, students were adamant that we had to continue to do this with the first-years,” Klooster explained. “I had grand aspirations of taking them to places like Chicago, to experience a new part of the country, but now I see why Caretta’s important.”
This level of dedication in the Bonner Program only increases during the school year. Students can spend up to eight hours a week plus meetings, retreats and the annual Alternative Spring Break actively engaging on campus and in the community. Many also receive no financial compensation but do service work, as Klooster said, “out of the goodness of their hearts.”
“The Bonner experience is not for the faint of heart—it’s an extraordinary commitment on the part of the students,” Klooster said.
This month Centre was in a special position to celebrate that commitment and the Bonner Program’s 25th Anniversary. At the organization’s Summer Leadership Institute, where over 500 people represented 75 different schools, Centre’s President John A. Roush delivered the keynote speech.
“He really made us proud with the message he conveyed,” Klooster continued.
Bonner work is pervasive throughout the local community, nationwide and internationally. The students work with nearly all the nonprofits in the Boyle County area, with the ultimate goal being to leave the organizations better than they were before the students came.
“The Bonner Program is a critical, fundamental bridge between the College and our broader community. Bonners work in good faith and really spread the love of Centre to the rest of the area,” Klooster said.
by Elise L. Murrell
June 24, 2015