Bonny Knight

March 23, 2003|By Jason Song

Bonny Knight doesn't speak a single foreign language yet helps people from 93 countries find a life in Maryland.

Knight, a senior counselor at the Foreign Born Information and Referral Network (FIRN) in Harper's Choice village in Columbia, said she understands patois, a English dialect spoken by many West Africans, but "I can make do with everyone else."

Knight, 60, has worked at the network since 1995 but has worked with immigrants since the 1970s, when she did social work for Cambodian refugees in Madison, Wis. "I was smitten," said Knight. "I loved working with people from other cultures."

After leaving Wisconsin in the early 1980s, Knight worked with American Indians in Los Angeles before moving to Howard County in 1991, where she did a variety of jobs for the Howard County Head Start program.

In 1995, Knight took a job as a counselor at FIRN, where she helps immigrants apply for citizenship and get benefits, and helps in times of crisis.

For example, when Jean Pierre, a Haitian immigrant, lost his Wilde Lake home to a fire several weeks ago, Knight made calls to help Pierre find housing and benefits.

Knight says she sees about 25 clients a week and "each one is so inspiring."

"Many have been through wars and horrific things that I cannot imagine, and yet they are so positive and they are so eager to begin a life," she said. "It's an honor to work with them."

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