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Commodore explores poverty, community through Bonner Leaders Program

February 14, 2019 • Kyley Underhill • No Comments

While many UNC students are hanging out in their dorms or catching up on homework, first year student Ellison Commodore is helping to fight poverty in the Chapel Hill community.

Commodore is a member of the Bonner Leaders Program at the Campus Y, which matches a diverse and committed group of work-study students with local nonprofits and public agencies. Each Bonner Leader makes a four-year commitment to one community partner and develops his or her leadership skills while assuming roles of increasing responsibility each year.

This fall Yalitza Ramos, the Bonner Leaders Program Director, paired a new class of twelve Bonner Leaders with fourteen community partners across Chapel Hill and Durham. Commodore was selected to work at Community Empowerment Fund (CEF), a nonprofit organization that provides support and services to help its members transition out of homelessness and poverty. Since his placement, he has dedicated more than 90 hours working one-on-one with CEF members to help them accomplish their financial goals.

Exposing Bonner Leaders like Commodore to professional development opportunities and reflective service allows them to understand social issues outside of the classroom and explore their roles as allies, advocates, innovators, and change-makers.

“I never really delved into social justice in high school, but now the topics of poverty and homelessness feel so much more real,” Commodore said. “Doing this work allows me to be more empathetic about people’s circumstances and feel connected to members of our community. Their success is also your success.”

As a CEF advocate, Commodore coaches members through tasks like creating a budget, building a resume, and applying for housing. To prepare for this position, CEF offered him a variety of trainings on topics including active listening, financial coaching, and racial equity.

As a first-year, Commodore will continue strengthening his advocacy skills this semester. As he gets older, he’ll take on programming, training, and administrative responsibilities as well. Sarah Cohn, CEF’s Advocate Program Coordinator, is optimistic about welcoming more Bonner Leaders into the CEF family in the years to come.

“CEF started in the Campus Y and has always maintained a strong connection to the University, but we became a Bonner community partner just this year!” explained Cohn. “We are very much a volunteer-driven organization and it is a goal of ours to make our volunteer advocate positions more accessible to everyone, including students. The Bonner Program fits right in with these values and we are really excited to grow this partnership.”

While Bonner Leaders are expected to work 150 hours every semester, their participation in the program involves far more than just logging hours at their work sites. Outside of working at CEF, Commodore also enjoys attending Bonner Leader workshops, held for two hours every Monday at the Campus Y.

“It’s been amazing getting to connect with other Bonners that are really passionate about current events and topics like racism, homophobia, and sexism,” he said. “It makes me feel validated to be a part of a community of people around my age who care and talk about social issues.”

The Bonner Leaders curriculum includes trainings dedicated to Bonners’ professional development, community building, personal skills, and self-care to complement their demanding field work.

“Self-care and mental health are particularly popular topics on Monday nights,” Ramos said. “Being a Bonner sometimes involves witnessing hard or heavy truths, and our students deserve a safe, trustworthy space to process and learn from their experiences.”

The Bonner Leaders Program currently supports 40 Carolina students who are driven to make an impact during their time at Carolina. “Bonner Love” is a popular slogan used among Bonners to express the appreciation they feel towards to each other and those they serve.

“When I think of ‘Bonner Love’ the first word that comes to mind is ‘community,’” Ramos said. “And to me, that will always be the most important thing.”

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