sponsored by the Grand Rapids Community Foundation
Volunteer Spotlight: Yili Bonarski
Focusing on the West Michigan Asian Community
For several decades, Yili Bonarski balanced her life between work and family, careful to put the latter first, which included caring for her sick mothering until her death in early 2016.
Her Encore years might best be described as balancing her life on behalf of her family, which includes immersing herself in a handful of business enterprises that help train a kind and gentle spotlight on Grand Rapids’ Asian community.
A native of China, Yili immigrated to the United States as Yili Jian (her last maiden name means “among the bamboo”) when she was 23, shortly after earning an English degree. She was motivated to move here to improve her English.
After working in office accounting for a local manufacturing firm, she helped establish and grow the Chinese language program at Grand Valley State University, where she served as an adjunct professor for three years.
Several years ago, Yili worked as a substitute teacher of Chinese at Grand Rapids City High. She augmented language classes that focused on Chinese cooking, history and culture.
Four years ago, Yili landed a job as language editor for the Amway Corporation, which she loves because it allows her the flexibility to manage a host of family-owned initiatives.
You’ll find Yili, her family and their employees working at Café Boba where they serve everything from smoothies to spicy shrimp rolls to Korean dumplings to Udon noodle soup.
Adjacent to the café is the Bamboo Studio, where individuals and groups gather for painting classes and parties. One more door to the north is the Bamboo Place Cultural Center, headquarters for the West Michigan Asian American Association, Inc. (WMAAA). Finally, there’s Serenity Hair Studio, yet another Bonarski business.
Yili is especially active in the WMAAA, which surfaces in high fashion at the annual Festival of the Arts on the Calder Plaza each June, and through a variety of ongoing service projects. She also chairs the board of the Grand Rapids Chinese Language School, where she spends every Saturday afternoon teaching Chinese to both youngsters and adults.
Local Volunteer Opportunities
Your opportunity awaits. Pick a role and react voluntarily.
The Horticulture Helper
Help keep John Ball Zoo clean and beautiful by becoming a park volunteer. Assist with grounds maintenance by picking up trash, planting fresh flowers, weeding gardens and hauling compost bins.
Take Action: Contact the John Ball Zoo at (616) 336-4317 or by email at email@example.com.
The Considerate Caller
The Associate for the Blind and Visually Impaired (AVBI) in Grand Rapids is looking for charismatic and outgoing volunteers to help with follow-up phone calls to clients and support group participants. Conduct brief phone surveys to make sure AVBI services have met clients’ standards.
Take Action: Contact Joy Wahby at (616) 458-1187 or 1-800-466-8084.
The Compassionate Coach
Help run the show at Kent County Girls on the Run (GONTR) by becoming a volunteer coach. Not a runner? Don’t sweat it. The only requirement to become a coach is a passion for the GONTR mission and a commitment to bring energy and joy to each practice.
Take Action: Contact Heidi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Litter Reducer
Barfly Ventures is gearing up for the annual St. Patrick’s Day extravaganza, Irish on Ionia, held Saturday, March 18 in downtown Grand Rapids. Join the West Michigan Environmental Action Committee in their efforts to reduce harmful litter generated by the celebration.
Take Action: Contact Autumn Sands at (616) 437-1648 or by email at email@example.com.
The Green Thumb
Kent County Parks and Trails is looking for volunteers interested in habitat preservation to help keep trails healthy and thriving. Volunteers will learn how to identify invasive plants and how to properly weed them out.
Take Action: Contact Ginny Sines at (616) 632-7874 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Unleash your inner kid by volunteering at Safe Haven Ministries in the childcare program. Engage in fun activities with the kids and help teach them appropriate coping mechanisms, safety planning skills and positive ways to deal with stress while their mothers attend in-house support programs.
Take Action: Contact Sarah Omicioli at (616) 452-6664 or by email at email@example.com.
The Savvy Salesperson
Gilda’s LaughFest, running March 9 through March 26, needs upbeat and positive retail volunteers to help sell merchandise during all events at various venues. Assist by laying out items for sale on designated tables and roaming around the festival, greeting visitors and up selling products.
Take Action: Contact the LaughFest volunteer staff at (616) 735 HAHA or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Aquatic Assistant
Dive in at Porter Hills senior living center by becoming a Swim Buddy. Serve as a swimming partner to residents in the Wellness Center indoor swimming pool. Help participants experience the best workout possible by swimming alongside them and helping them in and out of the pool.
Take Action: Contact the Porter Hills volunteer department at (616) 954-1799 ext. 10233.
Become a Play and Activity Leader (PAL) at Frederick Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park. As a PAL volunteer you’ll have an opportunity to expand young minds by leading various children’s activities and answering any questions participants might have.
Take Action: Contact Tom Hoving at (616) 974-5221 or by email at email@example.com.