SRU Bonner Leader is opening the book on community building


Bonner student

Jaeden Chapman, a Slippery Rock University freshman exploratory major from Turtle Creek, has turned his passion for reading into community service as one of five students in SRU’s Bonner Leader Program.

(Editor's note: This is the fifth in a series of articles introducing students from Slippery Rock University's inaugural Bonner Leader class. To read previously published articles, click here.)

May 6, 2020

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Love your neighbor and ask questions. Those are words that Jaeden Chapman lives by. As a student in Slippery Rock University's Bonner Leader Program, Chapman found the perfect place to apply those directives: the Slippery Rock Community Library.

"When I was a kid I used to always go to the library; I was a bookworm," said Chapman, a freshman exploratory major from Turtle Creek. "There's something about libraries that's just calming; being around books is relaxing."

Libraries offer plenty of resources to aid in answering questions, but what Chapman is finding as a Bonner Leader is they also provide an opportunity to love your neighbor through community service. Bonner students receive a scholarship and a wage to lead a community-service partnership for the University. Chapman's found a perfect match at the SRCL.

"What I like about the library is it's for everybody," Chapman said. "They have programs for everyone, from kids to senior citizens; they even help people who want to get their Ham (amateur) Radio License."

Chapman is one of five freshmen in the inaugural year of the Bonner Leader Program at SRU. During the fall semester, Bonner Leaders worked at three service locations on four-week rotations before being assigned a fixed community partner for the spring semester.

The library appealed to Chapman's interests. During his first visit to SRCL, he was gasping aloud at the sight of his favorite books from his childhood. Then he found a calling to serve others.

"There was this one child who had a 'Magic Tree House' book in his hand and he wasn't sure whether he wanted to get it," Chapman said. "I convinced him to check it out. That's important to share with children the importance of reading. It's hard these days because all kids want to do is watch YouTube or play Fortnite (video games)."

Chapman worked on site at the SRCL for the first part of the spring semester, leading the library's communication efforts and social media presence. SRCL's online presence is heightened during the coronavirus pandemic because of stay-at-home restrictions and the library's physical location at 465 N. Main Street being temporarily closed. Chapman, however, continues his work remotely.

Other BLP community partners include the Macoskey Center for Sustainability Education and Research and Don't Stop Dreamin', a foundation of Quality Life Services based in Butler that helps nursing home, rehab and personal care residents in western Pennsylvania. During their time at SRU, Bonner Leaders will work to build capacity for more SRU student volunteers, resources and other opportunities for collaboration between the University and their community partner. By their fourth year in the program, Bonner Leaders' focus will shift to community action and scholarship.

Bonner Leaders at SRU receive $5,000 in financial support each year for four years, including a $3,000 scholarship and $2,000 earned through their work in the community. They must commit at least 10 hours per week during the academic year to leading a partnership with a community organization and maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA.

Last year, SRU joined an exclusive network of 64 institutions in the U.S. to adopt the Bonner Foundation's civic engagement and scholarship model. The Bonner Foundation oversees the network to ensure that institutions are expressing the organization's "common commitments" of civic engagement, community building, diversity, international perspective, social justice, spiritual exploration and wellness.

Youth literacy and community building through libraries are just a few examples of Chapman's commitments to the BLP mission. He's also passionate about social justice issues related to police brutality, racial profiling and immigration, to name a few. As an African American, Chapman said he experienced racial profiling as a high school student when he and a group from the Black Male Leadership Development Institute were at a Pittsburgh-area shopping mall. The group was gathering for a workshop discussion, but someone called security because they suspected they were shoplifting.

"It's important to surround yourself with people who don't look like you or are different than you in certain ways, like sexuality or religion," Chapman said. "(Some people) don't have that much interaction with people who look like me, and so they associate (black people) with stereotypes."

According to organizers of the BLP, they intentionally seek students from underrepresented groups and students who have a strong sense of identity, an ethic for service and passion around social issues that can be channeled through community service and volunteering.

Chapman applied for the program and was interviewed by SRU's 10-member Bonner Program Advisory Committee. The BPAC, which is comprised of SRU faculty and staff, Bonner Program staff and student coordinators and a community member, chose Chapman and four other first-year students from among nearly 50 applicants to represent the program's first cohort. Subsequent cohorts will include 10 students per year. Once the program is operating at full capacity there will be 40 students in the program.

"We aspire all of our Bonner Leaders to have or be able to develop traits that include civic leadership, a diverse perspective and a passion to effect change related to social issues and the larger community," said Sami Laurence, SRU's Bonner Program developer. "The qualifications for the program are consistent with the Bonner Foundation's common commitments. Through their lived experiences, diversity and desire to learn, our first cohort meets these qualifications and they are certainly positioned to lead the way in developing partnerships with the community and setting a precedent for future Bonner students who enter the program."

To learn more about the BLP at SRU, including information for students applying for the 2020-21 academic year, click here.

MEDIA CONTACT: Justin Zackal | 724.738.4854 |