SPARTANBURG, S.C. -- From Tanzania to Mississippi and the Blue Ridge Mountains to the South Carolina coast, Wofford College’s Bonner Scholars celebrated their summer “vacations” in service to others.
The program’s “Summer of Service” placed 31 Bonner Scholars in a variety of service positions this past summer. Many worked with children; some assisted special-needs adults; others returned to their hometowns to work in YMCA or summer camp programs.
Bonner Scholars are required to work with a nonprofit organization of their choice during two summers of their college years. Wofford scholars have worked in local, national and international communities, returning to campus with broader understanding and new perspectives on life’s challenges.
Bonners also serve during the academic year, but the summer service is full-time and gives students a more complete experience in a field of their choice.
“The organizations want you to work full-time for at least seven weeks, and that does have an impact on students,” says Ramón Galiñanes Jr., director of the Wofford Bonner Scholars Program. “They might find out that they really like a certain area of concentration, or they might discover that, ‘This is not for me.’”
The program gives summer a different flavor for students, Galiñanes says. “A lot of students have to work a part-time job in the summer just to make some money for college,” he says. “Bonner Scholars get a stipend to do the Bonner summer of service. They can work here in Spartanburg or go back home and get involved there. Some go overseas.
“It’s a chance for them to gain professional development skills and also to think about different career possibilities. A student who is interested in teaching might work at a summer camp. We have had Bonner Scholars at the Smithsonian in Washington. There is a lot of variety. The only thing that is universal is the non-profit aspect,” he adds. “The program is a great opportunity that I wish more Wofford students had.”
Here is how two of the Bonner Scholars spent their Summer of Service:
Accepting the Call to Help
Jainee Feliz-Cabrera’s phone often rings at odd hours, and for a multitude of reasons.
As part of the Bonner Scholar Program, Feliz-Cabrera works as a volunteer at the SAFE Homes-Rape Crisis Coalition in Spartanburg, S.C. She is often on-call overnight, which means that calls to the center’s help line are forwarded to her phone.
The caller could be dealing with domestic abuse, sexual assault or any number of other problems that demand immediate attention and careful assistance.
“I got a call one night from a lady who was very depressed,” Feliz-Cabrera says. “She told me toward the end of the call that she had planned on committing suicide but that me helping her talk through things really helped. After that, I thought – hey, these calls are pretty important.”
She has helped victims of sexual assault and domestic violence deal with those situations, often spending the night at a local hospital to comfort the person while he or she is being treated. It’s important and often difficult work that she took on only after receiving intensive training.
“I feel like I’m making a big impact in whatever way I can,” she says.
With volunteer work that occurs at unusual times and in unusual situations, Feliz-Cabrera says she has become an expert of sorts at time management.
“This has all helped me with school because I’ve been better able to manage my time,” she says. “If I’m on call, I know I have to get my work done before. If I have to go to the hospital for someone, I might be there an hour and a half or five hours.”
A junior from Charlotte, N.C., Feliz-Cabrera says she hopes to spend her senior year studying in London.
Summer camp lifechanging for student
A clear goal of the Bonner Scholar Program is helping others, but the students who sign on typically find there is a huge reciprocal benefit.
Orlando Barrientos, a junior from Spartanburg, S.C., is a prime example.
“It’s helped me learn how to love people who aren’t necessarily loved a lot,” he says. “It teaches you how to be humble and how to put everyone else first, how to include other people. It’s made me realize that even the smallest thing – saying hello or a smile – can change a person’s view during that day.”
Barrientos has served as a counselor the past two summers at Camp Spearhead, which is located in Greenville County, S.C., at the edge of the Appalachian Mountains. The camp provides typical residential camp activities for special needs individuals from the age of 8 through older adults.
From Sunday night to Friday morning in a typical week, Barrientos lived in a cabin with 10 to 12 campers, helping them participate in camp activities such as archery and canoeing while also assisting them with basic personal needs.
“We help them with getting dressed, eating, transferring to beds from power chairs and so forth and with morning and afternoon activities and sports,” says Barrientos, a double major in computer science and Spanish with a minor in mathematics. “Then there are night activities like a campfire, dances, movie night and a talent show.”
It’s an intense experience that requires patience and understanding, but Barrientos says he has gained immeasurably from the experience.
“These two summers have really changed my views in life,” he says. “They’ve made me into someone that I didn’t know was there.”
Barrientos, who is majoring in computer science, said he hopes to use his degree to work with special needs people within the context of computer systems and operations.