TCNJ’s Bonner Center partners with Sustainable Jersey to create a greener tomorrow

TCNJ’s Bonner Center partners with Sustainable Jersey to create a greener tomorrow
Members of the Bonner Scholars' Environment Team and several members of the municipalities' "Green Teams." Back row: Nick Dimauro, Richard Lee, Regina Zick, Kara Ukaegbu, Vertulie Massenat, Gayatri Oruganti, Dan Rita. Front Row: Erica Hernandez, Heather Camp, Chelsea Sandmeyer.

The College’s colors are blue and gold, but this year TCNJ’s Bonner Center for Civic and Community Engagement will have two other colors on the brain: green and bronze

A team of seven Bonner Scholars are taking part in an innovative new partnership with Sustainable Jersey, an organization that gives points to municipalities that take concrete steps to enhance their environmental sustainability ranking.

By helping plan and execute “green” projects throughout the year, these Bonner Scholars will aid officials from four municipalities—Mount Holly, Trenton, the City of Burlington, and Green Brook and Somerset counties—in their goal of attaining the 150 points necessary to attain Sustainable Jersey’s “Bronze Level” certification by October of next year.

Each project will gain the municipalities a minimum of 5 points toward their goal.

This innovative partnership will be beneficial all around, according to Heather Camp, senior program director at the Bonner Center.

“The Bonner Center is very excited about this project, as it helps us to connect to different communities throughout New Jersey in a meaningful, long-term way. What I think makes the Bonner Center a good partner for the project is that we have the opportunity to mobilize a greater number of students… to help communities meet their Sustainable Jersey needs,” Camp said. On Sept. 7, the leaders of three of the municipalities’ designated “green teams” met with Bonners in-person for the first time to discuss the coming year’s projects, including green fairs, recycling campaigns and community rain gardens.

According to Camp, this partnership is important because in the past, the Bonner’s Environmental Team did not have as many opportunities to build ongoing relationships with the communities they volunteered in.

“This gives us some ongoing, concrete things that out team can work on, and relationships to build on instead of just doing a project,” Camp said.

Another important aspect of the collaboration is that Bonner Scholars will be working on many projects with first-year TCNJ students fulfilling their Community-Engaged Learning (CEL) Day requirement.

“We have …the potential to partner with classes in the future to help communities meet their Sustainable Jersey needs. It’s part of the College’s mission,” Camp said. “This provides students with a really concrete way to learn ways they can reach out to the community when they leave (the College).”

Already, the Bonners and first-year students successfully collaborated with Mount Holly green team on the construction of two rain gardens on Saturday, Sept. 17, as a part of the College’s first CEL Day experience with Sustainable Jersey.

The project is highly anticipated by participants on all sides of the table, including the College’s Municipal Land Use Center (MLUC), which co-founded Sustainable Jersey in 2006.

“This is a pilot project. It’s the first time we’ve ever done it. It’s exciting,” said Winnie Fatton, project manager of MLUC’s Institute for Sustainability Planning and Governance. “The projects that (the municipalities) proposed were projects that we felt could be accomplished by students, and the students had interest in these projects.”

“A lot of times, people think that everything is fine, but if you look at certain Sustainable Jersey categories, they suggest certain areas …can be improved. We’re looking forward to having the students help us with our goal,” said Dan Rita, a member of the Mount Holly green team.

According to Fatton, MLUC secured $25,000 from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation to support student scholarships for this work this year. If successful, this pilot project could grow into the creation of a “Sustainability Service Corps” of students, the first of its kind in the U.S, she said.

Fatton said certified municipalities often receive more grants than non-certified ones, but this is just one reason among many why communities are attracted to the program.

“Not only is it a political thing, it also saves money,” she said. “People want to do the right thing, but they’re not really sure what to do… It’s an easy road map to doing the right thing.”

Sustainable Jersey is currently working with over 60 percent of New Jersey’s municipalities. Of the 566 towns in New Jersey, 350 are already registered with Sustainable Jersey, and 74 are certified. Communities that achieve Bronze Level certification will be recognized at an awards banquet during October of next year.

“(The College’s) Bonner and Municipal Land Use Centers are excited about this partnership which extends the practice of student community-engaged learning with service beyond typical non-profit community partners to local governments,” said MLUC’s Executive Director, Brian Reilly. ”At a time when municipalities across the nation are increasingly challenged to fund basic services, this project is an example of extending New Jersey’s collegiate resources to aid NJ cities and towns do that and more.”

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