The Rider University Bonner program was awarded a $500 grant from Youth Service America to facilitate the set up and maintenance of a local garden for its new project, “Growing Hope For a Healthy Future.” The garden will serve as a learning tool for the Living Hope Empowerment Center's after school program in Trenton.
Bonners serve in small teams with several primary community partners to address issues of hunger, homelessness, adult literacy and risk youth in the Trenton area. As program volunteers for the Living Hope Empowerment Center, the students spend their afternoon helping with homework, providing kids with healthy snacks, playing icebreakers and participating in team building exercises. The student's latest initiative is centered on engaging interest in staying and school and attending college.
“We have a college program that we just started getting them involved in,” Christina Cantone, a senior Bonner, says. “We just visited a college campus last weekend. We are trying to inspire and motivate them to get their grades up and eventually to go to college one day.”
The idea of using the garden as a learning tool was sparked by a conversation between one of the after school students and Courtney Earnest, a freshman Bonner.
“The student mentioned wanting to do a service activity where they would be serving food to the homeless,” Earnest says. “We brainstormed and came up with this wonderful idea to take the garden that they already have and use it. We wanted to make it grow, create lunches out of it and teach them about hunger and the importance of healthy living.”
Joan Liptrot, assistant director of Campus Life for Service Learning, encouraged the students to apply for the grant through Youth Service America. “The Rider students will be facilitating the process, guiding them through math lessons, budgeting, how to get things from the garden, how much the seeds will cost, and how much space the plants need,” she says. “We will also look into what plants will grow best in the area so there will be some science lessons. The goal is to grow things in the garden that they can use and teach the middle school students how to make healthy snacks.”
The students submitted the grant proposal and, in the process, found some startling facts about health habits of children in the local area.
"There aren’t a lot of supermarkets in Trenton,” Liptrot says. “They have a high rate of childhood hunger and kids who are on free and reduced lunch, but they also have a disproportionate amount of kids who would be considered obese. Part of that comes from not having the right kind of resources to get good foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables are much more expensive while fast food is much more easily accessible and that is the food that students are choosing to eat. We're hoping that this way we teach them how to do some urban gardening.”
The project is ongoing and the Bonners hope that the garden becomes a yearly service project aimed at inspiring Rider students and the local community to become involved in solving a local and national problem.
“Instead of just providing service to after school kids, we are teaching the students in Trenton how to be involved in the service themselves so that they can help to address the community issues that they are facing. We are trying to empower them as providers of service to their local community,” Liptrot says.
The Rider Bonner Community Scholar Program is a community service leadership development scholarship program that exposes members to issues of social justice while providing them hands on experience to impact their community. For more information about the Rider Bonner program, please visit http://www.rider.edu/student-life/activities-organizations/community-service/rider-bonner-community-scholars.