Break to Engage: Averett University National Bonner Leaders are Breaking Barriers

Posted on March 20th, 2018 by Danielle Staub

By: Ashley Bowman
Special to the Office of Marketing and Communications

They called it a “Break to Engage,” but when Averett University National Bonner Leaders Kejuan Shivers and Jasmin Tinnis got in the van to start their journey, they were not expecting what a lasting impact the trip would have on their lives.

“It’s breaking down barriers. We could easily be in their position – not a lot of people get the chance and the opportunities that I have, and this has made me appreciate life more,” Tinnis said.

The National Bonner Leader program is a national service opportunity for incoming Averett students to be part of an intense, four-year community partnership. Through the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation, students are have an once-in-a-lifetime chance to serve their community on a more personal level.

Averett started a program in the fall of 2017 under the direction of Brigid Belko Gorton, director of experiential learning at the Center for Community Engagement and Career Competitiveness (CCECC) at Averett. Shortly after its inception, April Love-Loveless, a graduate of Lynchburg College and current AmeriCorps VISTA for the National Bonner Leader program, was brought on as well. While at Lynchburg, Love was a member of the college’s Bonner Leader program and married one of her fellow Bonners.

Over spring break, Gorton and Love-Loveless organized and led four of the National Bonner Leaders on a Break to Engage. During the trip, they spent time learning more about themselves as a unit, the Bonner programs at other schools and how to better implement service at Averett.

The Averett National Bonner Leaders traveled down south and stopped in Spartanburg, S.C., as well as Clarkston, Atlanta and Rome, Ga. The Bonners met with four colleges who also have Bonner Leader programs including: Berry College, Mars Hill University, Warren Wilson College and Wofford College.

While the programs at these colleges and universities are much larger and have been in existence longer than Averett, everyone has the same goal in mind – transforming students into leaders that give back to their communities. The National Bonner Leaders from Averett say that they learned quite a bit from these larger institutions and hope to bring that knowledge back to campus.

“We’re starting in the right direction but there is room to grow,” Shivers said.

In Atlanta, they traveled to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, visiting his birth home, tomb, eternal flame, and the Center for Nonviolent Social Change. They also toured the Center for Civil and Human Rights to explore the global fight for social justice, one of the Bonner Foundation’s core commitments

Growing up in Guyana, Tinnis hadn’t really heard about Dr. King.

“I never really knew who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was, so to actually get this knowledge [from his hometown] was awesome. To know more about what he did and his movement, it was a really great experience.”

On the way back to campus, the group stayed in Asheville, N.C., to engage with a local nonprofit pioneering radical change called 12 Baskets Café.The mission of 12 Baskets is to eradicate poverty through relationships. While at the café, students shared meals, listened to stories and served those in the Ashville community. Tinnis and Shivers say the memories formed here were powerful and will last a lifetime.

Shivers explains that within the café, he saw people from every background, age and race. The stereotypes of what he believed to be true of the less fortunate weren’t what he and the group witnessed while in 12 Baskets.

“It was an environment for everyone. It wasn’t like ‘oh let me help you because you’re less fortunate’ but rather learning from each other and building together,” Shivers said. “It wasn’t just people like me that were poor, there was a mix.”

The group came back to campus motivated to make change in the Danville community. There was also discussion of starting a program similar to 12 Baskets locally and taking another trip to Asheville to show the other National Bonner Leaders exactly what has fueled their motivation.

“The two places that impacted me the most were MLK National Park and 12 Baskets. It really shook me to my core,” Love-Loveless said. “I haven’t yet realized the full influence the trip has had on me, I am still processing it.”

While the first Break to Engage was specific to National Bonner Leaders, Gorton aims to provide more options for students regarding alternative spring and fall break trips.

“The biggest goal is create a culture of service, a culture of giving. I see our National Bonner Leaders as the ones to issue in that culture,” Gorton said. “On the ride back we discussed the next steps and how to get more people involved. I think this is just step one, with hundreds more to come. We have a bright future with a lot on the horizon.”

Currently there are 13 students in the National Bonner Leader program at Averett. Each student partners with their own service site in the Danville community gain professional skills related to their major course of study, grow into a leader via the hands-on curriculum, and further foster a culture of service. Local nonprofit organizations that currently have Averett National Bonner Leaders at their sites include: Danville Church Based Tutorial Program, Goodwill Career Center, Forest Hills Elementary School, Nobils, Dan River Nonprofit Network, the YMCA, Danville Science Center, Danville Life Saving Crew and more.