From Laos to Lenbrook, Georgia State Alumna and Donor Tonya Bodie Counts Her Blessings
The way residents at Lenbrook retirement community light up when they see Tonya Bodie walking down the hallway, you’d think she was the activities planner. “I’m what most people would consider an anomaly: I have a finance and accounting background, but I have a personality,” Lenbrook’s chief financial officer says with a laugh. “You don’t see that a whole lot, the extrovert accountant.”
In a specialized place such as Lenbrook, though, a human touch is important regardless of the job title. “This is their home, and I look at each resident like they’re family. You see them every day and you know their story,” she says. “So anytime I’m with them, I give them my full attention — I look them in their eyes and listen to them. It’s not easy being old, I see that. But these are people who’ve lived healthy, great lives.”
Hard Work in the Land of Opportunity
She hasn’t even turned 40 yet, but Tonya’s own life story is a full one too — one that instilled in her the importance of family and the value of hard work. Tonya’s family left Vientiane, Laos, in 1975 as communist groups seized control of countries across Southeast Asia. When her family arrived in the United States, they first settled in Ohio but moved every couple of years as her father worked on power plants up and down the Eastern seaboard.
“I had to be independent, not only because I’m a middle child and the only girl, but we moved around a lot. You learn to make friends fast,” Bodie remembers. “And I had to be the smart kid. My parents have what most American parents would call the traditional Asian quality — you will do awesome in school, you don’t need to focus on anything but school.”
When it came to hard work and determination, Bodie says she had an unbeatable role model in her father. “He did what it took to raise our family,” she remembers. “Because we were poor — our first house was a trailer you pulled on a car, and all our Christmas presents came from the church. So I know where we came from. I’ve seen my dad’s paychecks — like, ‘We lived off that?’
“And I understood that my dad wasn’t around a whole lot because he worked, and he worked hard. I wasn’t mad that my dad didn’t come to my softball games, because I knew he was working, and I knew he was working for me.”
‘Georgia State Was Real Life’
One of the fruits of her father’s hard work was a college education for each of his three children. Bodie spent her first three years at Georgia Southern, then transferred to Georgia State when she got an internship in Atlanta.
“It was a great experience,” she says. “Georgia State was real — that was real life. People in my classes at Southern, they were all like me, in their early 20s, young, just moving out of their parents’ houses. At Georgia State, you had that, but you also had professionals who were going back to school and knew what it was like to work. I had one economics professor who was a consultant, and he would talk to us about some of the projects he was working on in the context of what we were learning.
“I didn’t realize what it meant to work on a team until I went to Georgia State,” Bodie adds. “We’d get assigned group projects, and all of a sudden I realized, ‘I have to rely on them to show up or to do their job?’ But every class was like that. It was real life. And our team wasn’t all 20-year-olds, they were all different kinds of people, all demographics, all ages. And that was really cool.”
Bodie earned her finance degree and, with the help of Georgia State’s job placement office, had a job lined up at RHA Health Services before she’d even graduated. “I practically lived at the career services place,” she says. “Georgia State basically got me the interview, and they coached me. I went to tons of coaching seminars telling me how to interview.” She recently showed her gratitude to Georgia State by offering a $1,000 challenge grant for donations to the J. Mack Robinson College of Business on Online Giving Day.
The Best Things in Life
Bodie says she might never have considered the health services field if not for being set up there by Georgia State. But after a two-year detour at an Internet startup that got bought out after the dot-com bubble burst, she returned to the health care industry as a consultant with BDO.
“I worked at BDO for six years, and it was team-based — everything that Georgia State teaches you,” she says. “We brought in some interns, a few women who were all getting their MBAs from Emory. I only had them for 12 or 16 weeks, and I said, ‘When you’re here, don’t worry about learning things specific to senior housing — you’re gonna forget it. Let’s learn about process, how to get things done, how you’re going to work.’
“Georgia State, I think, teaches you more about how to work, how to be professional: Show up to work, know how to dress, be prepared. You walk into class and you’re not prepared, you’re going to get called out and you’re going to be embarrassed. Not because your professor wants you to be embarrassed, but because you didn’t know what you were doing.”
Bodie says she continues to use the skills she learned at Georgia State in her current position at Lenbrook, where a former BDO co-worker brought her over when he was promoted to CEO. The best part, though, is being able to combine that knowledge with personal interaction on a daily basis.
“The people aspect, to me, is my favorite part of the job — getting out there, hearing stories and getting advice,” she says. “We had an party a couple months ago for a couple who were celebrating their 75th anniversary. Come on — 75 years! I asked them, ‘How have you been able to get along all this time?’ He said, ‘Well, I can’t hear in one ear.’
“The people who live here make you laugh, but you see the mortality in them too, and I think that’s humbling — and it reminds you how precious life is. It also reminds me that I don’t need to work so much, I need to spend time with my family. I’ll ask them, ‘What’s the secret of life?’ And it’s always ‘Love your family, spend time with your family. Don’t work so much.’ They’ll come around in the evenings and see me — ‘What are you still doing here? You should go home.’”
Between her family, her job and her education, Bodie says she’s constantly reminded how “uniquely blessed” she’s been. “I believe everything in my life happened for a reason,” she says. “I know where I could be — I could be living in Laos, working in a rice field. I believe God had a different plan for my life and brought us out of Laos to put us through all these things to be where I am today. I remember that every single day. I know my life has a plan, and I think being here at this time in my life, having small kids, still being able to use the schooling I have, is a blessing.”