Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla Protecting the Planet Earth and Environment with Integrity

Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla Protecting the Planet Earth and Environment with Integrity

There are individuals on the planet who understand their purpose, and they work every day to fulfill their mission. No one can understand their commitment, but after spending a short time with them, you can see their light. Commissioner Emily Bonilla is one of those individuals.

She is a passionate person in everything she does, and as a professional, she holds herself to a higher standard. Overcoming obstacles and challenges is all a part of being the first to graduate in her family from college. She has been a strong advocate and supporter for women and the planet; we begin in New York, where she was born in this interview/conversation.

“I was born in New York, and we moved around almost every year. When I was in second grade we moved to Massachusetts and I had to repeat 1st grade over again, even though I could read. I was very studious and I took school very serious. I was an A student.” says Commissioner Bonilla.

The Commissioner not only moved around every year, but the neighborhoods she lived in were also impoverished and dangerous. There were infestations of roaches, the house was a mess, and the conditions were deplorable.

“School was really important to me. I loved reading, because it took me out of the life I was living and into a fantasy world. It was my escape, from the world I was living.” says the Commissioner.  The Commissioner’s family is from Puerto Rico, and no other family member had graduated from High School.  Some may have gotten their GED, but as an immigrant moving forward was very difficult, but education was the key.

“My goal was to graduate High School, and I had some teachers that looked out for me, because I was an A student. My teachers in the eighth grade made sure in High School that I got into AP honor classes. My grandmother was pushing me to be a doctor, because no one in the family had gone to college.” says Commissioner Bonilla.

Commissioner Bonilla continued her hard work in High School, all while her grandfather was a central figure in her life. Her grandfather supported her in whatever she wanted to do. As the Commissioner was in High School she wanted to be a model. Her grandfather took pictures of her, even though he was not a very good photographer; she loved him for being supportive, and helped her with the goal of being a model.

As a teenager she worked a part time job. She started working as soon as she was old enough, and she always was independent. She bought her own clothes and as a sophomore she met her husband.

“When I was 14, my grandmother took the family to Florida, and we spent a day at Disney. I loved it. So I looked up the schools in Orlando, and I found UCF, and that is where I planned to go. I graduated from High School in 1995, and spent my first semester in UCF.” explained the Commissioner.

After her first semester in college, the Commissioner got home sick and her grandfather also passed away. She returned back home to Massachusetts, but college life became confusing, and eventually she and her husband to be moved back to Florida. In Florida, the commissioner became pregnant, and this changed their lives. At this point, she decided to become passionate with her life and become an entrepreneur.

Commissioner Bonilla says, “That was a turning point in my life. I wanted my children to do whatever they wanted to do in their life. I wanted them to have the inspiration that my grandfather gave me in my life. So when I became pregnant with my son, I changed my major, because I couldn’t be an example to my son, if I couldn’t do it myself. I taught myself a lesson, you really must do what you are passionate about and not follow what other people are telling you to do.”

Many times people don’t understand why they make certain decisions, but things happen for a reason. Her grandfather took pictures of the Commissioner when she was in High School, and in college, she started a photography/ videography business.

 “So when I went to film school at Valencia, we had to pay rent, pay bills, so it was very difficult to have a traditional job. It was very intense, and I only had the weekends available. I decided to film weddings and the money was good. I graduated from Valencia, and started a videography business while attending UCF. That business expanded and we ended up doing videos, photography, DJ, and planning.”

The business was extremely successful and after getting her bachelors from UCF, and getting her master’s from Full Sail, the Commissioner saved up some money and decided to close the business down.  She began to focus on her family, but she was still working with women and teaching them how to start a business.

“We always have to think about the future, we just can’t just think about today. I am always looking into the future, that’s how I plan my life. That’s how I think, we all should think. We just can’t think about today, or you can say good-bye to tomorrow.” says the Commissioner.

This was a profound statement from the Commissioner, and the discussion became passionate, because we started talking about bald eagles. The Commissioner has always believed that the planet must be protected, and the bald eagles are a species that must continue to be in existence. This has been very impactful to her as a child and as an adult.

“They are an amazing species that represents our country.” says the Commissioner. She has always been engaged in protecting the environment, and she is always thinking about future generations. So the Commissioner moved to the eastside of Orange County on 6 acres of land. She wanted to move closer to nature, and there were two bald eagles nurseries, close to her residence where she moved.

Maybe we can call it fate, but in 2013 where the Commissioner had just moved, a large developer was planning to build 4,000 homes, and that would create “urban sprawl.” The Commissioner was trying to get away from urban congestion, and now it was following her and her family.

“I went to a community meeting, and said this is not the place for this type of development. We got together with different members of the community and started an organization called, ‘Save East Orlando.’ I started a Facebook page and we got 2,000 likes in a month, and I made this something that got exposure.” explains the Commissioner.

As a result of this community movement in 2013, the Commissioner started studying urban land use, with her husband, and this became a major reason why Commissioner Bonilla got involved with politics today. She learned the policies, the processes of land use and begun making presentations at public hearings.

“Everything fell on deaf ears. The County Commissioners was not listening, the staff was not listening, and it was very frustrating as a citizen. The elected officials just ignored us. That is not how government should operate.” said Commissioner Bonilla.

Before Commissioner Emily Bonilla ran for office there was no focus on protecting the wet lands, and the EPA was the last process in land use. Now the EPA is the first step in many developments, and the Commissioner is making a difference. Commissioner Bonilla is a reflection of the new guard, and she is listening and talking to all members in the community.

“So what I need are the people behind me. I ran on a reform agenda, smart growth, and economic development. I can’t do this by myself.” says Commissioner Bonilla.

Commissioner Emily Bonilla is proving as a woman of diversity that you can challenge and change your environment and hold yourself accountable to the needs in your community. Get your neighbors, friends, and everyone engaged, do your homework, and become their voice.

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