The Corella & Bertram F. Bonner Foundation

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Full Circle: Guilford Connections with Refugee Communities

      Experiential learning through community engagement is a long term investment. Sometimes the payoff takes decades because Guilford College's stewardship is built on the idea that some good things can't be measured by quarterly returns or academic semesters. Bonner Center for Community Service and Learning and its student coordinators and teams of student volunteers have run some community sites for years, long enough for refugee and immigrant children who were tutored by Guilfordians to have grown up ready for college themselves.

      So it is not a surprise that all four Montagnard Jarai and Montagnard Rhade Bonner Scholars currently enrolled have connections to these sites, with positive memories of tutors, after school activities and enrichment programs. The Montagnards, an indigenous tribal people, make up a unique population found only here in Greensboro and the Piedmont outside their native Southeast Asia. Y Dem Adrong is another Montagnard Rhade Guilfordian, who although not a Bonner, is actively involved in community service work. After completing his AAS degree in Criminal Justice at GTCC he applied and was accepted as a CCE student pursuing a 4-year degree in Criminal Justice. One day he walked into the Bonner Center and introduced himself to Andrew Young, Volunteer Training Coordinator, who has worked with the Montagnard community for many years. When Y Dem told his story, Andrew brought him to James Shields, Director of the Bonner Center, and asked him to repeat it. He said that when he was a child Guilford volunteers tutored at him at his apartment complex and were his role models. Growing up many of his peers didn't make it — poverty and cultural isolation took their toll. But his dream had been to attend the college his role models came from, so here he was. And although it had been many years he remembered their names and James contacted them and they remembered Y Dem, too.

     Today the work at these sites continues. Community bonds are strengthened and relationships renewed. But there's a new twist. Refugee and immigrant Guilfordians are themselves becoming site and project leaders and creating initiatives that address community needs from the perspective of those who've been there, know the language and the culture. Y Dem is teaming up with Stephanie Barron, a Latina Criminal Justice major, to create a legal information center for newcomers. Lek Siu, Vung Ksor and H Lois Mlo tutor and mentor and collaborate with Center for New North Carolinian researchers on hypertension and ethnobotany studies. Jon Siu, the first Montagnard Jarai student to graduate from Guilford (May '14), was instrumental in revealing the extent poor language interpretation plagues our local courts. This year Guilford accepted the first refugee students from Bhutan. Last year the first Karen refugee student was accepted. Because Greensboro is a refugee city, this a welcomed trend.

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