Serving Others: MCCC's Bonner Leaders on a Mission

1-15-09

WEST WINDSOR, N.J. As part of their mission to help solve pressing community problems, Mercer County Community College's hosted Bonner Leaders from throughout the state on Jan. 19 to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Meeting at the college's James Kerney Campus in downtown Trenton, they learned from nonprofit agency representatives how the current economic crisis is affecting hunger in New Jersey. The students then completed a full day of service at Trenton area agencies that address hunger issues, including Crisis Ministries, T.A.S.K., Habitat for Humanity and Mercer Street Friends.

Students who participate in the national Bonner Leaders program commit to 300 hours of service at their primary volunteer site, and receive a biweekly stipend. Selected via an application and in-person interview, participants are eligible for a $1,000 educational award after completing their term of service. The program is now in its third year at Mercer.

For Bonner Leader Piers Duffell, learning about his community is both enlightening and gratifying. His career goal is to work with adolescents, including those with special needs. As a participant in the national Bonner Leader Program, he has gained insight by volunteering his time as a tutor at the Trenton After School Program (TASP). "I find myself missing the kids when I am away from the place," said Duffell, who recently moved to Trenton with his family. "I want to be a good neighbor. I had initially wanted to work for other community outreach organizations but the TASP workers who came to Mercer were so enthusiastic that I changed my mind on the spot."

At TASP, Duffell helps Trenton youngsters with their homework, assists them with reading preparedness, and performs other assignments. He especially enjoys forming bonds. "I always feel I can do more and do better," said Duffell.

According to Professor of Communication Donna Munde, who directs the program at MCCC, the Bonner Leaders' mission fits in perfectly with a community college. "We exist to serve and make Mercer County a better place to live and work through our teaching, leadership, and direct service. Bonner Leaders are beacons of service on campus and off."

The Bonner Program was founded by the late Bertram and Corella Bonner of Princeton, N.J., who strived to instill community involvement in students and help them pay for their education. Today, the foundation works with more than 80 institutions nationwide that have begun chapters of the Bonner Leaders Program. Additional program funding also comes from AmeriCorps and Federal Work Study programs.

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