Established in 1990, the Bonner Scholars Program provides scholarships to students who need help in paying for college and who have demonstrated a commitment to strengthening their communities through service. Hood was invited to join the program in 1993, and since then, has graduated over 75 Bonner Scholars. However, the Bonner Scholars Program does more than provide scholarships; it gives students the drive to become involved in changing their communities. Each student participates in 10 hours of volunteer service each week, choosing from a wide spectrum of projects.
Corella and Bertram Bonner established The Bonner Foundation with the hope and, indeed, the expectation, that the impact of their support would be far-reaching in the areas of hunger and education. Drawing on their own experiences, as well as the knowledge of friends and visionaries in the philanthropic and educational communities, the Bonners created two programs, Crisis Ministry and Bonner Scholars.
Both of the Bonner’s personal journeys played a significant role in the development and direction of the Foundation. Bertram Bonner was born “without a dime” in 1899 in Brooklyn, N.Y. At the early age of 22, after putting himself through college at night, Bertram was named head treasurer for Heda Green Banks. As head treasurer, he made many loans to New York builders, which inspired him to become involved in the real estate business.
He was successful but lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929. With hard work and a tremendous insight for business, Bertram quickly re-made his fortune. His career spanned six decades, and he can be credited with the building of more than 30,000 homes and apartments.
Corella Bonner, like her husband, was born into poverty. She began her journey in the rural south, in Eagen, Tenn. At age 14, after living in coal-mining towns in West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, she, along with her mother, sought opportunity in Detroit, Mich. Arriving penniless, Corella soon found work as a cashier at a cafeteria, attended Wayne State University at night and made sure that her younger siblings went to school.
She worked her way up from cashier to manager and was eventually transferred to the Statler chain’s New York hotel. It was there that she met Bertram Bonner. They were married, four years later, in 1942.
The Bonners’ involvement in community service emanated from their early work providing food for destitute families in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where they lived at one time. In 1956, they moved to Princeton, N.J., where they began a Crisis Ministry Program that distributes money to congregations of all faiths.
In 1990, they established the first Bonner Scholars Program at Berea College in Ky., working with Berea President John Stevenson. Since then, the program has become a nationally-recognized service scholarship model. In the last 11 years, the foundation has awarded more than $12 million in scholarship support to more than 3,500 students at 25 colleges. In addition, the foundation has created a $5 million endowment at seven schools to carry out the Bonner Scholars Program.
Corella continues to take an active role in the program, and has visited the Hood campus several times to see first-hand the volunteer projects being pursued by Hood’s Bonner Scholars. Bertram passed away in May 1993, but Corella continues to carry on their legacy of hope, service, and gratitude.