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TCNJ Bonner Center Rounds Up Series of Service Trips

EWING, NJ – The Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement has just completed its series of enrichment service trips for the 2012-2013 Academic Year. As part of the Bonner Community Scholars Student Development Model, each class of students participate in a sequence of service and enrichment trips over a four year period that are designed to have an impact on an impoverished community, as well as deepen their understanding of this country’s struggle for democracy and equality. This year, the second-year and third-year Bonner Scholars traveled to Richmond, VA and Atlanta, GA, respectively, shortly after the school year ended. A small cohort of staff and students also traveled to Nicaragua to begin planning for future trips.

After the original second-year trip was postponed due to Hurricane sand, the sophomore Bonner Community Scholars traveled to Richmond, VA in May. Staff and students were welcomed by the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement at the University of Richmond and had the opportunity to learn more about the program there. During the trip, the sophomore cohort helped with service projects at Richmond Bonner community partner sites, including the William Byrd Community House and Boaz & Ruth. The William Byrd Community House is a 90-year old nonprofit organization that provides a wide range of services to help individuals and families address immediate challenges and draw on their strengths to build self-sufficiency. The Bonner students and staff worked in the community garden at the William Byrd Community House, which provides fresh vegetables, fruit, and herbs to the food pantry housed by the organization. Following the service project, William Byrd Community House staff members took the group on a tour of the Hollywood Cemetery, which serves as the final resting place of two American presidents, six Virginia governors, two Supreme Court justices, 22 Confederate generals, and thousands of Confederate Soldiers.

The following day, Bonner staff and students visited Boaz & Ruth, a nonprofit reentry program dedicated to enhancing and developing the Highland Park area while providing opportunities for its program participants. The group was given a tour of the Boaz & Ruth area to see the various entrepreneurial enterprises and homes built by the organization. The students and staff then worked side-by-side with program participants to paint and weed in the organization’s community garden. Following the service, the group had lunch at the Firehouse 15 Café, a restaurant founded by Boaz & Ruth and operated by program participants and graduates. In the afternoon, the staff and students visited the American Civil War Center to learn more about the impact of the Civil War on the south, on Richmond, and on the country as a whole. The group got a chance to tour parts of Richmond and learned more about the rich history of the city. On the way home, the staff and students stopped in Washington, DC to visit the Lincoln Memorial and discussed the impact President Lincoln had on the struggle for democracy. They also visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to begin thinking about next year’s trip to Atlanta.

During the same week, third-year students traveled to Atlanta, GA to learn more about the Civil Rights Movement. On the way down to Atlanta, the group stopped in Washington, DC to visit the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial to kick off the discussion about the Civil Rights Movement in the United States. Once in Atlanta, the group visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, the home of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Ebenezer Church where Dr. King preached during his time in Atlanta, and the Dr. King and Rosetta Scott King tomb and eternal flame. The Group also visited Morehouse College and met with the school’s Office of Community Service.

The group had the opportunity to help out with several service projects while in Atlanta, including helping staff out the New You Empowerment Conference for the elderly, which focused on nutritional and physical health. The students and staff also worked with the Piedmont Park Conservancy and Trees Atlanta, where they helped cut back wild shrubs and trees and planted grass on the Beltline. The group also volunteered with HOSEA Feed the Hungry where they put together 130 boxes of food for families in need. At the end of the trip, the cohort had dinner with Morehouse Bonner alumni, during which they were able to reflect on their experiences and discuss the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on America and on their lives.

The group that traveled to Nicaragua spent six days in the Granada area, the fifth most populous city in the country. In Nicaragua, the staff and students spent much of their time and effort working with local organizations and partners to develop new visions and plans for future student delegations. The team visited Los Quinchos, a nonprofit organization that works to rehabilitate street children who face extreme poverty, hunger, drug addition, and a history of abuse. The organization has four locations and serves approximately 300 kids from different parts of the country. TCNJ Bonner has worked with Los Quinchos in the past and delivered a $1,100 donation, which students who traveled to Nicaragua last year raised by selling bracelets made by children in Los Quinchos. Bonner Scholars were able to connect with Los Quinchos older participants who now provide services to the younger ones to learn more about their aspirations for the future. If you are interested in purchasing a bracelet for $5.00, please contact the Bonner Center at 609-771-2548.

During the trip, Bonner staff and students worked with a local professor and Los Quinchos staff to develop plans for future endeavors in Nicaragua. The team was able to tour different parts of the country, traveling to San Marcos, to Managua, to Laguna de Apoya, and taking a boat tour of Las Isletas. During their tours, they learned about the culture and political climate of the area. These plans include future delegations to the area and a campaign to raise funds for scholarships for Nicaraguan students going to college. Though there is still much work to do in planning for future trips, the team came back inspired, recharged, and energized. The Bonner Center is excited to work with ProNica, a solidatrity organization that leads delegations of students in Nicaragua, Casa de Los Tres Mundos, and Los Quinchos.

This summer, the Bonner Center will begin planning the service trips for next year to bring Bonner Scholars to new places and learn about the United States’ collective history in the struggle for democracy, and then see the struggle on an international scale while traveling to Nicaragua. To learn more about the students’ experiences, you can visit their blogs through the Service Learning Trips page.