Occasionally in these pages we feature interviews with some of the nonprofit leaders in our community.
Today, we'd like to introduce you to someone we've had the pleasure of meeting who also has--and is--serving his community. But not by running a nonprofit.
Bonifacio Lomeli is a four-time recipient of the George and Gwendolyn Goodin Scholarship, a Fund of Napa Valley Community Foundation.
When the George and Gwendolyn Goodin Scholarship Committee met Bonifacio, he was finishing his studies at Napa Valley College and preparing to transfer to Sonoma State University. In just three years, Bonifacio graduated from Sonoma State University and started a joint degree (Juris Doctorate and Masters of Dispute Resolution) program at Pepperdine University School of Law.
While this is an impressive educational journey by any standard, Bonifacio isn't just any student--he's a military veteran. Now in his second year of law school, Bonifacio also is volunteering his time helping veterans navigate the legal system.
Bonifacio grew up in Napa, and attended Napa High School. Two weeks after high school graduation, he left for basic training. Bonifacio's military career with the 82nd Airborne Division includes work as a Certified Nursing Assistant, combat medic and Medical Operations Officer. He deployed twice; first to Baghdad for 15 months, then to Afghanistan for nine months.
For many, making the transition from soldier to student can be very challenging. George W. Goodin, a generous donor working with the Community Foundation, understood this.
Mr. Goodin was a career military man who served 28 years in many duty stations around the world. When he and his wife wrote their trust, they directed Napa Valley Community Foundation to establish an endowed scholarship for Napa County residents who had served their country in the military, or for the children of those who died in active duty.
Since its inception in 2013, the George and Gwendolyn Goodin Scholarship Fund has awarded 23 scholarships for a total amount of $95,750.
If you'd like to learn more about any of our Scholarship Funds, give us a call.
We hope you enjoy getting to know Bonifacio.
NVCF: Why did you enlist?
Bonifacio: Growing up, joining the military was always something that I wanted to do, and going straight to college was never my plan. I always saw myself serving my country by joining the Army.
NVCF: What do you think is the main issue affecting returning veterans as you see it?
Bonifacio: I think the biggest issue for returning veterans is adjusting to life away from everyone with whom you served. When you are still actively serving, you are surrounded by people that have gone through the same or similar experiences, so you have a 24/7 support network of friends and colleagues to help you deal with any issues that you may have.
When you get out of the military and return home, it is difficult to rebuild that support system. It's overwhelming because you go from hanging out with your buddies every day, and suddenly you are out on your own. Luckily, I had a great support system with my family, and they helped me through the adjustment period. However, even with the support of my family, it was still very difficult to readjust because there were very few people to whom I could personally relate. Unfortunately, some people get out of the military and have no support system.
NVCF: What, in your opinion, are the primary obstacles for veterans who are trying to complete their education?
Bonifacio: I think the main obstacle for veterans in completing their education is taking the very first steps to make an education plan. It is a mental hurdle to just sit down and say, "ok, I'm going to do this." On top of that is the financial side, and being able to focus strictly on school. You will have veterans who will come home, get jobs, get comfortable, and then not want to continue with their education; which is fine. It's just very difficult to get someone to start and fully focus on the process.
NVCF: Why did you want to be a lawyer?
Bonifacio: My plan to become a lawyer started when I was in the military. While I was serving, I started wanting to learn about the law, my personal rights, and how the law affects me. Then, when I started to study economics and what motivates the market, I also became curious to know how the law played its part. Additionally, it doesn't hurt that my Mom has worked at the Napa Superior Courthouse my entire life.
NVCF: What motivates you?
Bonifacio: When I joined the military, the response that I got from many people was "why didn't you go to college," and it always came off quite offensive. Personally, I have never thought that you needed to go to college and my life plan was to serve in the military.
Then, when I got out of the service, individuals' responses went from "it's so great that you are serving our country," to "so now you're just another unemployed vet." It was very frustrating to go from one extreme to another, especially with having to start from scratch at Napa Valley College. Just because a lot of us chose to go straight into the military doesn't mean we don't want to--or can't--go to school. By graduating from law school, I want to show other veterans that we can excel in a competitive educational environment.
NVCF: How have the four scholarships that you've received from the George and Gwendolyn Goodin Scholarship Fund helped you to meet your educational goals?
Bonifacio: The biggest thing for me with this scholarship is knowing that there are people willing to support me. Like I was saying earlier, I think a lot of veterans really feel alone, and when I have a group of people willing to invest time and money in me, it strengthens my resolve.
The psychological effect of knowing that someone's there, and I'm not just doing it for myself, is by far the thing that has helped me the most from this scholarship. Every time I have received word that I have been chosen for this scholarship, it always makes me a little emotional because it reminds me that someone out there is thinking of me, and that they actually care. That alone gives me more than enough motivation to not only finish my education, but to do the very best that I can.