Montclair State in the Community: Learning Through Service

Photo: Mike Peters

Students in the Bonner Leader AmeriCorps Program volunteer their time in the kitchen of the Salvation Army in Montclair.

Whether it’s serving a hot meal at a soup kitchen, tutoring students in math and reading after school, or helping to beautify a neighborhood park, chances are you will find Montclair State students on location lending their hands to projects in the community. Community service is a regular part of the student experience at Montclair State and a valuable component to a curriculum that stresses the importance of citizenship.

For nearly 15 years, Montclair State’s Service-Learning program has integrated service to the community with academic coursework by giving students experiences that educate them on how to strategically address community issues.

Marybeth Henry, a professor of family and child studies, has seen more than 1,000 students give back to the Montclair Township school district through her Service-Learning classes that place students as tutors in after-school programs. “The students’ service experience, coupled with their academic coursework, enables them to reflect on and address literacy issues, which is of local, state, and national concern,” she said.

Service-Learning is just one avenue through which students gain volunteer experience. Student-athletes visit sick children in area hospitals, assist with the Special Olympics, and participate in Read Across America through the TALON (Teaching Athletes Leadership Opportunities Now) Club, while environmentally conscious students can participate in river cleanups through the Bonner Leader AmeriCorps Program.

Students are also afforded numerous other community-service opportunities through student organizations, including ASSIST (Active Students Serving in Society Together), HEART (Helping Eachother and Redefining Tomorrow), HRDLA (Human Relations Leadership Development Association), and ELLC (Emerging Leaders Learning Community), among others.

There are so many opportunities, in fact, that students engaged in more than 19,000 hours of service to the community during the year. It is because of that type of commitment that Montclair State was named to the 2009 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, the highest federal recognition a college or university can receive for its commitment to volunteering, service-learning, and civic engagement.

“For everyone at Montclair State involved in community engagement, it is a great honor to be recognized for this work,” said Bryan Murdock, director of Service-Learning and Civic Engagement. “Each year, faculty, staff, and students partner with governmental agencies, local non-profit organizations, public schools, and charitable organizations throughout the region to help them achieve their mission and goals. Through these partnerships, hundreds of students and their professors have been actively engaged in issues including the minority achievement gap, public health, foster care, mental health, substance abuse, and environmental education, just to name a few.”

For students looking for opportunities to make a difference, the Bonner Leader AmeriCorps Program, which began in 2008, hosts a Community Service Resource Room where Bonner Leaders inform students of community service activities and act as a resource for organizations looking for volunteers. It even offers opportunities for students who can’t volunteer off campus, like the Suburban Cultural Educational Enrichment Program (SCEEP). In SCEEP, Montclair State students meet weekly on campus with grammar school students from Newark’s Sussex Avenue School to provide homework help and other activities.

Nicholas Jones was a sophomore when he became a Bonner-Leader. Now a senior, the information technology major continues to work with the Side Door Program that provides mentoring to nearly 60 middle school students every Friday at Union Congregational Church in Montclair. He says the experience has been truly rewarding. “I think they have given me more than what I can give them.”

Susan Johnson, coordinator of the Side Door Program, is continually impressed by Montclair State’s students, citing their reliability and helpfulness. “They are like my rocks,” she said. “It is a joy to have them.”