During a summer service work project, Mariana Luna-Martinez was asked to build a maze. It was intimidating on two fronts, she recalls. Not only did she have no idea what to do, she wasn’t even sure what it was.
As her team of volunteers picked up shovels and spades and began digging up grass behind a church in Hazlet, New Jersey, Luna-Martinez tried to come up with a plan to create what she learned was a maze. meditative. “It was very hot that first day and it was trial and error. It looked like we hadn’t done anything. But the second day went more smoothly, and by the end of the week, Luna-Martinez and her team of Bonner Leaders had created a prayer maze with seven rings.
“The progress has been amazing,” she said. “We sat down, analyzed what we had done wrong and what we had done well and applied that knowledge to calculating circles, placing bricks and pebbles. It was a beautiful moment for me because literally on the first day we were like, ‘How are we going to do this?’ We got together, thought outside the box, then crunched the numbers and applied everything we knew.
The work was part of the summer orientation of the Bonner Leader program for incoming and continuing students at Montclair State University. Chosen through a competitive application process emphasizing service and leadership, Bonners are part of a nationwide network of more than 80 colleges and universities that offer service-based scholarships and co-op funds to support intensive undergraduate community service and social justice activities throughout their college. careers.
“The Bonner Leader Program is one of many public service programs at Montclair where students truly embody the spirit of service that we hope all individuals in New Jersey will one day display,” says Krystal Woolston, Center Deputy Director. for Community Engagement.
Traveling around Monmouth County in mid-August, the Bonners painted the soffits around St. John’s United Methodist Church, stained the outdoor worship center, volunteered at a pantry in the church and worked on local community houses. Together, the Bonner Group has volunteered over 1,400 hours to the church and the local community.
Luna-Martinez, a junior biology major with a minor in leadership development through civic engagement, was a team leader for the incoming Bonners, an exemplary role model of the many Montclair students who are engaged, giving back and making a difference. in their lives and the lives of others. Montclair has over 200 community partners and each year more than 1,000 Montclair students volunteer for special projects and during service days commemorating 9/11 and Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Volunteer opportunities include the Bonner Leader program, AmeriCorps and the Community Engaged Learning program.
These opportunities attracted Luna-Martinez to Montclair. “I believe Montclair truly embodies who I am and my values because not only am I Hispanic and first-generation, but I’m also passionate about and truly believe in the good works of public service,” she says.
These values were instilled in her as she grew up in Newark after her family lost their possessions in a house fire. “It was our community that helped my family get back on their feet,” says Luna-Martinez. “Over the years, my mother and my grandmother taught me the value and the true principle of service. Every time we had the opportunity, whether it was donating toys I no longer played with or participating in food drives, it was these small acts of kindness that steered my passion towards service.
The Bonners engage in a four-year internship program focused on community building, diversity and inclusion, civic engagement, and social justice. They serve in schools, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies involved in issues of public interest, including education, safety, housing, food insecurity, youth development, and environmental sustainability.
On campus, a sample of Bonner’s volunteer activities include event planning for the Global Center on Human Trafficking; assist students with disabilities in their courses and activities with the Increasing Access to College project; and storage shelves and the Red Hawk Food Pantry. In the community, locally in Montclair, they organize after-school programs for middle schoolers, and in Paterson, the Bonners sort through donations and pack bags of food for the Father English Food Pantry.
About 30 students participated in the summer orientation program, including Jess Kershenblatt, a sophomore from Egg Harbor, New Jersey, majoring in family science and human development. “I know I want to do this important work for the people around me, the people I love, the people I know need extra hands.”
Story by writer Marilyn Joyce Lehren. Photos by college photographer Mike Peters. Video by university videographer Christo Apostolou.
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