It’s an ongoing joke to Jody E. Bonhard that she can’t escape a career in teaching.
Like a boomerang, the unyielding profession has brought Bonhard, 35, from Cleveland to teaching positions in Kansas City, Mo.; Medellín, Colombia; and Boston. Attempts to move into other careers like law or business only resulted in Bonhard being sucked deeper into education.
But now, back in Cleveland, Bonhard has finally found a place in teaching’s sticky web where she’s not looking to leave.
Bonhard is the director of Cleveland Bridge Builders, a 10-month program designed as a launchpad for civic engagement and leadership for mid-career professionals. It serves as one of Cleveland Leadership Center’s key programs.
“Throughout my life, I’ve just wanted to be someone who did something that made a difference,” said Bonhard, a resident of Lakewood. “The one thing that always drove me is wanting to help people live better lives and doing things that made our community better.”
Bonhard applied to be in the Bridge Builders’ 2017 class after realizing that despite having immersed herself in the communities she moved to, she knew the least about involvement opportunities in her hometown.
Her love for the program only grew, and in 2019, she became the Cleveland Bridge Builders’ director. As director, Bonhard configures the program’s curriculum and manages all of its aspects, recruitment and fundraising.
Bonhard also oversees the Cleveland Leadership Center’s leadership council, an advisory council of alumni from all of the organization’s programs from high school to retirement.
“In my position, I get to connect people with opportunities that can use their passions for community impact, which is a lot of fun,” said Bonhard, who grew up attending Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike. “Everyone who’s in the program is wonderful, and I love being part of what they do.”
Bonhard is also the chair of the member operations committee of the Providence House PHriends Associate Board, a nonprofit organization that protects at-risk children and supports families experiencing crises in Cleveland. Her task is to recruit new people to get involved with Providence House.
“I love watching people, communities and organizations grow,” Bonhard said. “No two days are the same. I am in constant professional, organized chaos, but it’s great, because good comes out of it.”
Bonhard was nominated to receive the 12 Under 36: Members of the Tribe award due to her efforts in Cleveland Bridge Builders, where she guided the program’s virtual transition due to COVID-19. She was also nominated for her work with Providence House.
Bonhard’s greatest accomplishment in her career and community involvements is being a part of hundreds of stories of growth, spanning from her first class of first graders who overcame obstacles to become college students to adults as part of Bridge Builders whom she connected to community work opportunities.
At the forefront of Bonhard’s future efforts is discovering ways to challenge racial inequities plaguing the Cleveland area, on top of continuing to connect people and finding opportunities of community involvement for herself.
“I’m done trying to escape education,” Bonhard said. “I really think I’ve found my niche, which is just helping adults grow and learn.”