Service-based scholarship program thrives at Centre College
February 11, 2010 By Leigh Ivey
sites, from local schools (above) to wildlife areas to Habitat for
Bonner Scholar Josh Moore '10 is one of the many students who
devotes countless hours to improving Danville's Batewood Park.
"Bonner has helped me to think outside the box and grow as a
service leader," Moore says. "It's great to be surrounded by other
students who care about serving others."
Patrick Noltemeyer serves as director of the Bonner Program at
Centre, where he is also associate dean of student life.
With the desire to "transform students, communities and campuses through service," the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation established the Bonners Scholars Program in 1990.
Since then, the program has become one of the largest privately funded, service-based college scholarship programs in the nation. More than 1,600 students (known as "Bonners") on more than 70 campuses are currently participating in the program.
And Centre College is one where the program is flourishing in exceptional ways.
The Bonner Scholars Program, which aims to provide students with "access to education and an opportunity to serve," is open to students with a passion for service, particularly focusing on students who may have significant financial need.
The Bonners at Centre (led by Patrick Noltemeyer, assistant dean of student life and director of community service and Bonner; and Elizabeth Wisman, Bonner coordinator) certainly have the necessary passion for service, and they are grateful for every experience made possible to them through the program.
"Bonner has given me the opportunity to do so much, from helping me connect with local volunteer positions in town to engaging me in intellectual discussions that challenge my views about service and poverty," Josh Moore '10 says. "It's also helped me to think outside the box and grow as a service leader, and it's great to be surrounded by other students who care about service."
Marc Bentley '11 of Pikeville, Ky., who spends much of his time volunteering at Heart of Kentucky United Way in Danville, feels that being a Bonner at Centre enhanced his pride in Danville and the surrounding areas.
"Bonner has allowed me to escape my comfort zone and use my talents for the betterment of mankind," he says. "Thanks to the work I've done through Bonner, I feel completely at home in Danville, perhaps more than my actual hometown."
This school year alone, Centre's Bonners have spent more than 3,500 hours in service.
"In addition to that impressive number," Wisman says, "it's important to note their extraordinary contribution to the community by improving existing programs and creating new initiatives. Students bring an enthusiastic attitude to local nonprofits that is both invigorating and motivating for veterans of the social service world."
Since the fall 2009 term, the Bonners have been busy. One group worked with the staff of a local after-school program to incorporate educational and developmental activities into the daily routine. A first-year Bonner is helping to improve a local mentoring organization by finding corporate sponsors to host activity nights with mentors and mentees.
Another project organized and directed by a Bonner last fall was Girls on the Go, created by senior Laura Rolfe of San Antonio. The program was designed to teach young girls how to eat well and enjoy physical fitness.
"It was so successful that it'll be emulated this spring with Guys on the Go!" Wisman says.
Another group of Bonners re-introduced an English-as-a-Second-Language program (ESL) in neighboring Garrard County. Bonners also created a leadership class at Bate Middle School "to help students in danger of falling through the cracks reach their potential," Wisman says.
And currently, several Bonners are organizing a book and bookshelf drive for local Habitat for Humanity homeowners to encourage literacy in the local community.
Though direct community service is a significant aspect of the Bonner Program, Wisman explains that "another huge part of the program, and one that makes Bonner so unique, is the training and reflection we do in preparation for and after our service."
And because Centre students "have a thirst for knowledge and a tendency to be involved in all sorts of extracurricular and co-curricular activities," Wisman says, "they're constantly looking for ways to reshape themselves into well-rounded, responsible citizens. The Bonner program does just that!"
Working so closely as both a director and mentor to the Bonners, Wisman feels that being involved with Bonner on campus is as rewarding for her as the students she guides.
"The Bonners challenge the way I think about the world everyday, so I often feel like I'm the student and they're the teachers. It's exciting to work with students who have a deep understanding of and curiosity about larger issues surrounding community service."
Each Bonner around the nation is asked to commit 10 hours each week to community service activities and 240 hours during at least one summer.
During each Bonner's "summer of service," he or she engages in service experiences without having to worry about lost income; Bonners are provided with either $2,000 or $2,500 for the summer.
Centre Bonner Josh Moore '10 of Louisville completed his summer of service at Kentucky Refugee Ministries, a refugee resettlement agency in Louisville. There, he did everything from making emergency room runs to house visits to teaching English and helping refugees pay their electric bills.
"My summer of service helped me to grow not only in the way I think about service," Moore says, "but helped me to grow as an individual as well. It was an amazing but challenging experience. Some of my favorite memories were hearing all the different stories from the refugees—how they got here, where they were from— and being able to see all these different cultures interact with each other."
Hearing some of the refugees' stories was difficult, he says, since "most of them were about war-torn villages or political oppression and the long and often painful route to get to the U.S., where life was better but still extremely difficult. Working there helped expand my world-view and see my own life in a new light."
Eye-opening experiences like this are what make Bonner so remarkable, Wisman says. "We don’t just help prepare meals for the working poor. We ask, 'Why are our neighbors hungry in the first place?'"
And though they are often confronted with harsh realities when asking these questions, "the Bonners maintain their optimism about the world," Wisman says. "That kind of inspiration is hard to come by."