Keeping a Dream Alive
Nearly two decades after she started, Mary Bonner has at last realized her dream of getting a college education.
“As long as a deferred dream is kept alive in your soul, it will not die or dry,” said Mary, a Gracewood mom and mother of five.
Not only has she achieved her dream - with the help of Gracewood and the Children At Heart Foundation - she recently graduated with honors and was chosen as the student graduation speaker at the Springfield College School of Human Services in Houston.
A native Houstonian, Mary began college at 18 at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Like most freshman, she was full of hopes and dreams. But 18 years later, she found herself divorced and back in Houston with only her van, five children and two bags of clothes. And no college degree.
After leaving a marriage of 15 years and checking into a shelter for abused and battered women, survival was her top priority. While living at a shelter and a “transitional” housing program, she found a job with Fort Bend County. She heard about Gracewood through the school one of her daughters attended.
“I didn’t want to go to another transitional facility,” said Mary. “But God had actually already laid it on my heart that I would be moving to Spring Branch before I even knew about Gracewood.”
Gracewood quickly became Mary’s transition out of transition. She describes Gracewood as providing CPR (Compassion, Prayer and Restoration) for her family.
“After coming out of an institutional type environment, it was a breath of fresh air to walk into Gracewood’s home environment,” said Mary. “For the first time in over a year, I was actually allowed to cook for my children and be a mom again.”
It was at Gracewood that the dream of completing her degree began to come alive once again. She had more than three years of credits completed at Oral Roberts, but the university wouldn’t release her transcripts until she dealt with debt from defaulted student loans.
It was with the help of Gracewood and a scholarship from the Children at Heart Foundation that Mary finally had the opportunity to go back to school. She enrolled at Springfield College in January of 2011 and began classes.
“The miracle was that with all the obstacles in my way, I was enrolled in college with my tuition paid in full with a scholarship thanks to Children at Heart,” Mary said in her graduation speech. “I can remember sitting in one of my first classes thinking how good God was.”
From Gracewood, Mary and her children moved into their own apartment, although the ministry continued to provide the support she needed to accomplish her dreams.
“After moving into our apartment, Gracewood helped us move furniture into our new home,” said Mary. “I’ll never forget the moment we closed the door and were finally on our own. My son looked at me and said, ‘You did it mom!’”
Thanks to the stability Mary and her children found at Gracewood, Mary’s oldest daughter, Briel, graduated from high school in May and will begin college in the fall.
“Because of Gracewood, my children now know that they can accomplish their dreams despite what they’ve been through or what they might face in the future,” said Mary.
After completing 48 hours at Springfield College, Mary received a Bachelor of Science in Human Services. The degree will allow her to move forward in her career, becoming a probation officer and helping families in crisis.
“Gracewood allowed us to grieve and to rebuild,” Mary said. “The time there allowed me to go back to my original self, the person God always intended me to be.”
“When I think of Human Services,” she told her fellow graduates, “I think of the people who make up the Gracewood staff who saw something great in me even when I was at my worst and believed in me enough to help me get the scholarship I needed so I could accomplish my dreams.”