Growing up in Memphis, Bailey Myers ’19 was no stranger to Rhodes, but although she thought it was beautiful, it was the academic rigor that made her take a closer look. Myers had struggled with undiagnosed learning challenges for most of her life, so when it came time to apply to college, she wanted to prove to everyone who had doubted her wrong by getting accepted into a highly rated school. As she explored local college options, Myers stumbled across the Bonner program, a scholarship where students work ten hours of community service in exchange for a portion of their tuition and a stipend. That really piqued her interest. “After I heard about the Bonner scholarship, all I wanted to do was become a Bonner at Rhodes and do this in a city that I love.”
“[Bonner] gave me a new perspective,” Myers says looking back on her first year at Rhodes. In addition to getting a built-in support system, Myers was able to explore new parts of the city she had grown up in through service as part of her Bonner assignments. Early on, volunteering at a local soup kitchen was an integral part of her Bonner experience. The Tuesday nights she spent hanging out in the kitchen and serving meals with the rest of her cohort gave Myers the space to begin to think critically about service. Eventually, Myers found the perfect opportunity to explore her newfound curiosity in Urban Studies classes, where the combination of intellectual questioning and real-world engagement lit a fire beneath her.
In her classes, Myers was blown away as she learned about how ordinary people could impact policy. While writing a paper for her Urban Politics and Policy class, Myers’ mind kept coming back to the Bonner program, and how, despite the incredible service Bonner students were doing, she still saw a need for stronger civic engagement. Myers didn’t know it then, but she would eventually play a role in shaping programming and engagement for the Bonner program at Rhodes.
Myers had a unique Bonner experience. Rather than focus on a single site, the way most students do, Myers worked at multiple sites over her four years. In typical Rhodes spirit, Myers was interested in too many things to pick just one. “Going back to the AHDH part, I bounced. I was interested in everything, and I wanted to learn about as many things as I could and figure out how those things worked.” Ironically, the same thing that had caused Myers to struggle in school growing up proved to be an asset during her time at Rhodes, pushing her to learn from a wide range of organizations.
During her senior year, Myers found herself working in the Bonner office for her volunteer site. In this role, she turned the questions that had driven her academically into actionable tasks and helped inform programming for Bonner students at Rhodes. Working in the Bonner office also gave Myers time to reflect on her Bonner experience, and reimagine what service can and should look like, something she had already been doing for four years as part of her Bonner and Urban studies experience.
Following graduation, Myers found work in the nonprofit industry in Memphis, but after learning about an open position in the Bonner office, a light bulb went off. “I thought, this is my opportunity to not only try to do the policy work, but also to open other people's experiences. How can we affect change on a bigger level without assuming we have to professionalize ourselves, or assuming we have to go through a government office. How can we change what we think about government participation?”
Today, Myers' Rhodes experience has truly come full circle. In her role as Bonner coordinator, she helps students explore some of the same questions she had just a few years earlier through service. At the heart, though, Myers’ work centers around bringing communities together. “Community is one of the greatest ways we can give back to Memphis. There's so much the world needs, and we can't do it with nonprofits alone. We can't do it with college students alone. We have to figure out a way to get the energy and the power from all of these different places moving.”