Many households have a designated handyman - someone who actually enjoys solving problems and fixing things. At Nelson Fauls’ home, he is that person. From DVD players to cars, if it’s broken, he can usually repair it. The 19-year-old engineering major from Etowah, Tennessee, is a Bonner Scholar at Maryville College who volunteers at least 40 hours a month in exchange for substantial scholarship dollars to apply toward tuition and books.
This summer, Fauls has been using his skills by working as a handyman, of sorts, at the Maryville Housing Authority (MHA), his volunteer site through the AmeriCorps VISTA program, the national service program designed specifically to fight poverty.
The MHA, which is financed by the federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), aims “to provide a quality living environment for the qualified families of this community that is affordable and safe while promoting opportunities for economic development and family self-sufficiency without discrimination,” according to its website. The MHA, which currently has 24 staff members, consists of 400 housing units on four sites and has been honored by HUD as a “High Performing Housing Authority.”
Fauls has had a wide range of responsibilities at MHA: transporting children for field trips and Vacation Bible School, coordinating volunteer service projects with local churches, assisting with the Youth Outdoor Recreation Program (backpacking, trail maintenance trips and painting the cargo trailer used on outings), maintenance work at the Boys and Girls Club and clerical duties.
This jack-of-all-trades also led Kids on Patrol (KOP), a week specifically designed to help the children become more responsible and educated citizens. This year, KOP entailed touring the Maryville Police Department and the McGhee-Tyson Air National Guard Base, as well as participating in a bike safety course and bowling on “fun day.”
How did someone who likes to tinker with gadgets fare with a van full of children?
“It wasn’t too much out of my comfort zone,” said Fauls. “I worked with children on the Bonner trip to Georgia last month. And I have a young niece. I tried to set a firm, but friendly tone with the children and they listened well. We had fun together.”
Terry Elmore, special project coordinator for MHA and Fauls’ supervisor, was impressed with the Bonner’s dependability.
“His abilities to get things done without supervision and solve problems independently particularly stand out,” highlighted Elmore.
Fauls’ volunteerism started in high school where he was actively involved in river clean-up through Trout Unlimited, a national organization whose mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds.
When Fauls first learned of his acceptance into the Bonner Scholars Program last year, he was concerned about balancing academics and volunteering since he carried 17 credit hours his first semester.
“The key is to have a plan, stick with it and not get side-tracked,” he shared.
During the upcoming academic year, Fauls plans to return to the Blount County Children’s Home, which was his Bonner volunteer site last year, where his primary responsibilities involve maintenance, such as electrical and lawn work.
The rising sophomore said that the public may not be aware of how the Bonner Scholars Program contributes to the community “behind the scenes.” For example, the Bonner students offered babysitting services for Parents’ Night Out on campus last year and hosted a food drive for a local pantry.
Elmore, who has been working with Bonners for 10 years, pointed out that the MHA typically has five Maryville College student volunteers each semester, including at least one Bonner Scholar.
He stated that Bonners have provided research and conducted needs assessments with assistance from MC faculty over the years.
“Some of our core programs and services to residents would not be able to function without the help of Bonner students,” added Elmore.
And he is continually impressed with the students. Noting that many keep in touch after graduation, he said, “They have careers of their own now, but also continue to make time to help me with special projects and events when needed. An unexpected serendipity with the Bonner Program experience . . . lifelong friendships have developed!”
And Bonner has already had a lasting impact on Fauls. He said that he will continue to volunteer post-graduation because he enjoys helping people - and he would appreciate the help if he was in need.
“I feel like I am part of the family - this community,” Fauls remarked.
During any given year, approximately 60 Maryville College students are volunteering in the community as Bonner Scholars. Weekly, these students contribute at least 600 volunteer hours to more than 25 agencies in the community. In a school year, the combined impact is nearly 17,000 hours.
Since the Bonner Scholars program was implemented at Maryville College in 1991, it is estimated that more than 250,000 hours of service have been given to local nonprofits and churches as well as programs in Africa and Latin America.
Founded and supported by the Princeton, N.J.- based Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation, the Bonner Scholars Program consists of students at 27 colleges and universities who receive substantial scholarships from the Foundation when students commit to a certain number of community service hours for each year they are in college. Money is also provided for group trips taken during summer breaks to service sites in the United States and abroad.
Last year, the Bonner Foundation announced that it would award Maryville College $4.5 million to endow the program. The endowment process includes a requirement that the College match the Bonner Foundation’s grant with $2 million - a $1 million “completion grant” that will be added to the foundation’s $4.5 million to create the Bonner Scholar Endowment, and another $1 million to establish the Bonner Operating Endowment, which will be used to support activities surrounding the Bonner Scholars Program.
For more information on the Bonner match, contact Brandon Bruce in the Office of Advancement and Community Relations at 865-981-8191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.