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May 17, 2010 - In April 2010, Frederick Bw’Ombongi ’04 received the 2010 Champion Award from the Center for Community Leadership, a program of the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce. The award was given in recognition of his work with two non-profits: the West Michigan Refugee Education & Cultural Center and the Opening Village Doors Foundation.

Frederick Bw’Ombongi, who emigrated from Kenya twelve years ago, graduated from Aquinas with an international business major and went on to complete the Masters in Healthcare Administration program at Grand Valley State University. He credits former College president Harry Knopke with the advice that led him to the master’s program, which prepared him for his current position as manager of language services for Spectrum Health. Reflecting favorably on the experience, he said “to meet the president of the College was a big deal, and still is. It made an impact on me.”

In addition to realizing his own success, Bw’Ombongi has worked hard to help others live better lives, both in Africa and in West Michigan. The West Michigan Refugee Education and Cultural Center (WMRECC) was formed in 2006 after he and others recognized the need to provide services for refugees and enable them to become productive members of the community. While most are from African nations, the center is open to all refugees. Thanks in large part to Bw’Ombongi’s efforts, WMRECC has received grants from Kellogg’s Foundation, Frey Foundation, Dyer Ives Foundation, Sebastian Foundation, Amway, Lacks Enterprises, and individual donors.

Among other services, the organization provides an after-school program that helps refugee children overcome educational barriers. Several Aquinas students have provided a valuable role in improving the academic prospects of these refugee students. During the spring 2010 semester, students Kathryn Chandonnet, Caitlyn Bonney, Catherine Jandernoa, and Hailey Barton volunteered as tutors. “The kids are amazing and it has been a really rewarding experience,” said Chandonnet.

After starting work to help area refugees, the next step for Bw’Ombongi was to find a way to assist people in Africa. The Opening Village Doors Foundation (OVDF) was formed in January 2009 to benefit impoverished individuals and communities in Kenya. The organization aims to provide micro-loans, ranging from $300 to $1,000, along with the business support and training to help people meet their self-sufficiency goals. Current projects are located in the area of Ngong near Nairobi and in Bw’Ombongi’s native Manga District.

The foundation’s board members will be travelling to Kenya in June 2010 to evaluate projects and explore future opportunities; Bw’Ombongi hopes to one day help provide services such as a health clinic and a community library for Manga District. “I’m a dreamer,” Bw’Ombongi said, but it’s undeniable that this alumnus has already realized significant success helping displaced and impoverished individuals.

While the need for funds for the OVDF are especially great, both non-profits welcome private or organizational donations, which are tax-deductible (both organizations are 501(c)(3) tax-exempt). Fred can be reached at Donations for OVDF can also be mailed directly to: Opening Village Doors Foundation; 1460 Houseman Avenue; Grand Rapids, MI 49505.