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Oxford's Bonner Leaders
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Eun Lee, a sophomore at Oxford College of Emory University, received many letters from the college after her acceptance, but none that intrigued her as much as a brochure for the Bonner Leaders Program.

The community service scholarship program appealed to Lee who devoted much of her free time in her native New York to tutoring students and also needed some financial assistance for higher education.

Through her involvement with Bonner Leaders at Oxford, Lee is earning money for school as well as learning about social obstacles in the area and even more about herself.

"I didn't expect to run into so much time management troubles - that's where I really struggled last year," Lee said. "But, this year I've managed to work it out."

The program accepts 10 freshmen annually and pairs them with community non-profit organizations for the rigorous 900-hour service load required to receive the maximum $9,362.50 scholarship.

Students in the program commit to working for a non-profit eight hours a week for four semesters - their first semesters on a college campus - and a summer serving 400 hours.

Oxford Coordinator of Community Service Emily Penprase explained how the 10 students are selected for the program each year based on a written application and an on-campus or phone interview.

Penprase said approximately 70 students applied this year.

She thinks the program, in its second year, complements the service and leadership projects under the umbrella of Oxford's Pierce Institute for Leadership and Community Engagement.

"I like the program because it is an intimate group of students and organizations interested in community service," Penprase said. "Students involved feel like they are part of something bigger.

"I've had a student tell me they liked the program because it's small and not something they could get lost in - they know all the people involved."

Crystal McLaughlin, Oxford's director of student development, said although the program is new at Oxford, it has existed since it's inception in 1990 at Berea College.

Wealthy real estate developer Bertram Bonner and his wife Corella set up the funding for the program for students who wanted to be civically engaged but needed financial aid for college. The Bonners have since passed away.

Today more than 50 institutions across the nation host the program. McLaughlin agreed with Penprase that Bonner Leaders fits in perfectly with Oxford's mission to create academically successful and civically responsible undergraduates.

"The depth of the service commitment is what we wanted to add to our service programs," McLaughlin said. "The program allows students to go more in depth with their service, to learn more about social issues and further develop their leadership skills."

Oxford's Bonner Leader community partners are HeadStart, the Newton County juvenile court system, Washington Street Community Center, Cousins Middle School, Project ReNeWal, Project Adventure, Newton READS, The Center for Community Preservation and Planning, Keep Covington/Newton Beautiful and The Learning Center.

Lee works with the Washington Street Community Center where she performs a variety of different tasks.

Washington Street Director Bea Jackson said the center has had a long-standing relationship with the college.

"We were in fact selected as one of those agencies that would pilot and be one of the first recipients of a Bonner Leader," Jackson said.

Jackson said Lee and other leaders tutor and coordinate the after-school enrichment program as well as handle administrative and clerical duties.

"We also put to use their creative talents and skills with the design of our display boards and flyers about upcoming events and activities," Jackson said.

Lee tracks students' progress in the enrichment program by helping Jackson maintain the individual performance management system. This system allows them to ascertain which students are prepared for the Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests they must take in the spring and which are not.

Jackson said Bonner Leaders really try to know the students they work with at the center.

"They are wonderful role models for our students," Jackson said.

Through her experiences at Washington Street, Lee has learned about economic and educational problems the area faces.

"My family struggled at one point in my life, so I was in their shoes," Lee said, "but luckily my parents were in my life and made me work toward academic success."

She said she wanted to do the same for the students at the center and has learned about how to communicate emotionally as well as verbally from her encounters with the children it serves.

According to Lee, students open up and learn better from mentors who consistently appear in their lives.

Her work at the center also has shown her how a community can effectively deal with hurdles such as poverty and academic underperformance.

"They are like extra family outside their family there, and for me that's hopeful and wonderful to see that," Lee said. "The experience has definitely made me more optimistic in that we can work on these international problems locally, because everyone deserves an education."