“I am living proof that your past does not determine your path in life,” SCC business student and 2011-12 DECA president, Amber Bonifas says, referring to being raised in a troubled home.
The 21 year-old was recently awarded the Transforming Lives Award from the Trustees Association of Community and Technical Colleges, an award that recognizes students who have overcome challenging barriers to go to school and transform their lives.
Her life has been complicated. As a child, she could not rely on her parents as they and other family members struggled with substance abuse; the result was a lonely and turbulent childhood. The community in which they lived made it very difficult for her to make friends as other parents told their children not to play with her because of the family reputation. To make matters worse, she suffered health problems and learning disorders. She says she doesn’t know where she would be today if it weren’t for the love and support of her grandparents.
At 18, Bonifas resolved to take a different route than her family and enrolled at Shoreline Community College's Learning Center North (LCN) in the spring of 2008. Six months later she had completed all GED requirements.
“Amber is a real go-getter,” Bernadette Pila says. Pila, who teaches at LCN, was impressed with Bonifas from the time they met. “She came with so much desire to succeed... all we needed to do was help her recognize that she had the ability.”
Pila says that Bonifas is “horribly bright,” but didn’t recognize it about herself because no-one had ever told her or encouraged her to go to school. She also was impressed with the fact that Bonifas had held a job for years as a front end manager at a large store on the east side. “It is uncommon for our students to hold a job for a long time.”
After experiencing success with her studies and being encouraged by LCN instructors and staff, Bonifas decided to further her studies and enrolled in college courses at Shoreline through the Career Education Options program.
"Her tenacity through the years has been inspiring," says CEO's Mariko Kakiuchi. Bonifas' experience and growth at Shoreline Community College prompted her to testify before the state legislature in support of dropout re-engagement funding for future students like herself who weren't able to graduate from high school.
“Shoreline Community College changed my life,” Bonifas says. “If I hadn’t come here, I don’t know if I would have continued with school past getting my GED.” Bonifas refers to the generosity of time and the commitment to her success that the LCN group provided, saying they not only helped her whenever she needed help understanding her school work, but they never gave up convincing her to believe in herself.
“That was a turning point for me. I realized that I could do it,” she says.
Pila and fellow instructor Guru Dorje were instrumental in making sure she understood and acknowledged her academic abilities. Bonifas says they spent countless hours helping her with her studies and never let her give up when she began to lose faith. They also often encouraged her to consider going on to earn more advanced degrees.
She is President of the Shoreline Community College chapter of DECA and will soon be submitting her candidacy for a national officer position with the international organization that prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs for careers in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe.
"It has been an honor to work with Amber these past couple of years. Amber has developed personally and professionally throughout her SCC academic experience. She has achieved semi-finalist honors twice in international Collegiate DECA competition. The business faculty firmly believe Amber will have a rewarding career in her future,” DECA advisor David Starr says.
Bonifas and DECA members held a food and supply drive for NOAH (Northwest Organization for Animal Help), a no-kill animal shelter located in Stanwood, Washington. She says that the organization is operated through donations and that this is the second year that Shoreline’s DECA members selected NOAH for their community service project. The NOAH fundraisers were held at multiple locations in addition to the PUB including local Petco stores and Lynnwood Wal-Mart.
“We made $700 in cash donations and three truckloads of food, toys and office supplies,” Bonifas says.
The DECA students also volunteered at a soup kitchen at the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Seattle at which over 200 people were served.
Bonifas is on course to graduate this spring with four AAAS degrees – Business Administration, Retail Management, Entrepreneurship and Marketing. She plans to apply to Central Washington University’s College of Business to earn her bachelor’s degree in Business Studies.
“I love it when people call me an overachiever because growing up that was never a word associated with my family,” Bonifas says with newfound confidence and pride. “My hope is that one day someone will look back and say that I motivated them and made a difference in their lives.”
The Trustees Association of Community and Technical Colleges (TACTC) is comprised of all the trustees of the 30 two-year college districts in Washington and is the "trade association" for trustees.
The vision of TACTC is to insure quality, affordable, and lifelong educational opportunities for all the people of Washington State.