Chatham University


Bonner Leader Program Founders

The founding mission for the Bonner Program is to provide diverse low-income, under-represented, and first generation students with the opportunity to attend college, while engaging their talents and educations in building and supporting communities.

Mr. & Mrs. 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 personal experiences, as well as the knowledge of friends and visionaries in the philanthropic and educational communities, the Bonners created the Bonner Scholar Programs. These programs promised that their expectations would be met.

Bertram Bonner, describes his wife, was born "without a dime" in 1899 in Brooklyn, New York. At the early age of 22, after putting himself through college at night, Mr. Bonner was named Head Treasurer for Heda Green Banks. He had been working with Ms. Green since the beginning of his teenage years and had learned much from the eccentric and well-known woman. 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 from the beginning, but in the stock market crash of '29, like so many others, he lost everything. But, unlike others, with hard work and a tremendous acumen for business, Mr. Bonner quickly made back his fortune. His career spanned six decades and 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 the town of Eagen, TN. As a fourteen-year-old, after living in coal-mining towns in West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky, Corella Allen, along with her mother, sought opportunity in the northern city of Detroit. Arriving penniless, the young Allen 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 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, where the Bonner family lived. When the Bonners moved in 1956 to Princeton, NJ they began a broad-based ecumenical crisis ministry program housed in the Nassau Presbyterian Church.

In 1990, the Bonner Foundation launched the first Bonner Program in partnership with Berea College in Kentucky. Designed to provide students with "access to education and an opportunity to serve," the program has grown to become the largest privately-funded, service-based college service program in the country. The program provides students with high financial need and an ethic for service with four-years of financial aid support and an opportunity to participate in an intensive cohort experience.

The Foundation has become one of the nation's largest privately funded service programs and a philanthropic leader in the anti-hunger movement. Through sustained partnerships with colleges and congregations, the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation seeks to improve the lives of individuals and communities by helping meet the basic needs of nutrition and educational opportunity.

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