June 1, 2015

The Bonner Center's Work Comes Full Circle


Y'Dem Adrong '15, who majored in criminal justice studies, almost didn't make it to the graduation ceremonies this beautiful spring. All grads face personal obstacles of one sort or another on their way up the stage steps, but few could say how dependent their presence in the graduation line was on the good work started by Guilfordians years ago.

Driving past the campus each day on his way to GTCC, Y'Dem had one thought in mind. One day, he thought, he'd be a Quaker and proudly walk.

In the fall of 2013, in Barbara Lawrence's Community Problem-Solving class, Andrew Young, volunteer training coordinator at the Bonner Center, was talking about sites at which students could fulfill required service hours. He ended with a story that emphasized the impact they could make by working in the community, but explained they might not be able to see the results for months, even years. By the time he finished telling the story, Y'Dem's story, the room was quiet and all ears attentive.

"We should be proud of the work of Guilfordians — your work, our work — upholding our belief in the College's Core Values and putting them into action".

Right then, other classes began emptying out into the hall and who should stroll by but Y Dem himself.

"Speak of the devil", Young said.

Years earlier, Y'Dem was a tyke who lived in the notorious Summit Avenue apartments in Greensboro. Like many Montagnard refugee kids who lived there, he was trying to figure out American culture and survive at the same time. As he explained, many of the kids he grew up with did not survive. When they hit the teen years, arrests followed.

Fortunately for him, he had a couple of guardian angels in the form of Kristi '06 and Sunny '04 Matthews, Guilford College students by way of local Dudley High School and the Bonner Foundation, which allowed them to attend Guilford as Bonner Scholars and perform service work at the Summit Avenue apartments. While there they watched after Y'Dem, helped him with homework, and kept him on the straight and narrow path. They knew it was important because as kids growing up next to a Cambodian temple they used to hurl rocks and insults at the monks. Who could have imagined (was it karma?) that one of their Bonner field trips would take them to — of all places — the very temple of their old neighborhood! In a moving reflection conducted at the temple they apologized to the monks.

When he arrived on the Guilford campus as a transfer student, Y'Dem came by the Bonner Center and upon mentioning the Matthews sisters' names, James Shields, director of the Bonner Center, immediately sent a Facebook message to them. Within a few minutes they each answered. Yes, they had fond memories of him. Yes, they couldn't believe he made it. And yes, they were so proud.

"The Bonner program made it possible for me to volunteer while in college and to know that that made a difference in his life really does my soul good!" said Sunny Matthews.

In his last few weeks Y'Dem quit one of the two jobs he was holding down while attending full time, in order to study more and earn high grades. "I felt like I never left the library!" he said. "I am thankful to Guilford, my professors, Bonner Center, and to all the Guilford students who tutored me and helped me along when I was a kid".