News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.
By Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)
Martin Puryear (pictured, Sierra Leone 1964–66) internationally renowned American sculptor, has been commissioned to create a site-specific, permanent sculpture for the Storm King Art Center in upstate New York, which is scheduled to be unveiled later this year. Reed Hastings (Swaziland 1983–85) announced in January that he will step down from his role as CEO of Netflix, while remaining as chairman, after leading the company for 25 years. Christopher Dodd (Dominican Republic 1966–68), was appointed as Special Presidential Advisor for the Americas by President Biden in November 2022. We share news about a newly published second book, an entrepreneur using wearable smarttech as part of substance abuse disorder recovery, and more.
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Elana Hohl (1971–73) published her latest book Into the Revolution, Letters from Iran, 1978-79 in November 2022. It centers around her time training helicopter pilots with her husband for the Imperial Iranian Army Aviation Corps in Iran. Hohl details her family’s best attempts to live a normal life and make an impact amid political instability, martial law, and the events leading up to the Iranian revolution. Into the Revolution arrives a year after Hohl published her first book, A Few Minor Adjustments: Two Years in Afghanistan: A Peace Corps Odyssey — a collection of letters sent home to friends and family during her Peace Corps service. After it was published in 2021, she decided to generously donate the funds earned to organizations supporting women and girls in Afghanistan, including the School of Leadership, Awaken, and the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace.
Chic Dambach (1967–69), NPCA President Emeritus and a distinguished fellow at Oklahoma State University (OSU) has been honored by OSU’s School of Global Studies with the creation of a graduate fellowship in his name — the Dambach Peacebuilder Endowed Fellowship. The fellowship program will provide funding for graduate students committed to mastering the theory and practice of global peace, supporting the next generation of peacemakers. Dambach has dedicated his life to service and peace through his work in sports diplomacy, nonprofit management, and peacebuilding — including his efforts to negotiate peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea to end a brutal border war. In 2017, Dambach was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize to recognize his efforts in peacebuilding. Learn more about Dambach and the fellowship program in this article from the latest issue of WorldView.
Christopher Dodd (1966–68) was appointed as Special Presidential Advisor for the Americas by President Biden in November 2022. In his role, he will help advance the implementation of key initiatives President Biden announced at the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles, which includes spanning economic cooperation, migration, health, human rights, food security, as well as other priorities. He will support preparations for the upcoming Cities Summit of the Americas in Denver in April 2023. Last month, Dodd visited Argentina to meet with the country’s U.S. Ambassador as well as other leaders from Latin America and the Caribbean on behalf of the President Biden. Dodd brings to this position more than three decades of experience as a U.S. Senator from Connecticut and has served six years in the House of Representatives. During his career, he has championed legislation supporting areas such as education, health, foreign policy and election reform.
Glenn Blumhorst (1988–91), NPCA’s longest-serving President and CEO, is the lead fundraiser for the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation (PCCF). His responsibilities will include overseeing a multimillion-dollar capital campaign to underwrite the design and construction of a commemorative work on the National Mall. The commemorative honors the creation of the Peace Corps in 1961 and those aspects of the American character exemplified by Peace Corps service. Read more about Blumhorst’s commitment to Peace Corps ideals in this President’s Letter found in the latest issue of WorldView.
Michael Madon (1994–96), CEO and Co-Founder of Pretaa, announced that the startup would being partnering with Fitbit Health Solutions to incorporate Fitbit’s devices and services into Pretaa’s substance abuse recovery process. This partnership allows the startup to use wearable devices — worn by those recovering from substance abuse disorder — to track a wearer’s biometric markers, geographic location, and other signs that they might be struggling with addiction. The Pretaa Fitbit reports and alerts on anomalies are then sent to health care professionals and patients’ support networks, allowing wearer to self-report and reach out for help. While this product first focused on addressing substance abuse, Madon hopes to expand this smarttech’s reach to enhance more people’s lifestyle. “This is an area that we think desperately needs this sort of approach,” Madon said. “But suicidality, especially among teens and young adults, is another space that we will move into.”
Rahama Wright (2002–04), founder of Shea Yeleen, received Technical.ly’s 2022 Invention of the Year Award last December for the Yeleen Beauty Makerspace. The roughly 3,000 square-foot makerspace, which is expected to be complete in late 2023, will feature a teaching lab, manufacturing facility, retail space, and media room for founders. The annual Technical.ly Awards series recognizes impactful leaders, change-making businesses, and innovative technology products making communities better. Voted by the public, the 2022 awards had 25 nominees across five categories and Wright’s makerspace received 90 percent of the votes in this category. She intends for the makerspace to uplift small beauty founders looking for assistance. “It’s a hybrid,” Wright said. “So we want to accommodate makers and people who want to make products as well as people who just need production and manufacturing services.”
Alyssa Mashek (2019–20), a Peace Corps Nepal evacuaee who was forced to her host county after only 15 months of service due to the pandemic, completed a virtual service project last November. During the 18-week project, Mashek helped design a management plan for harvested produce and collaboratively monitored and addressed fruit and nut tree issues related to insects, pests, and diseases. Mashek brought seven years of experience to the table, including experience as a Volunteer working in regenerative agriculture and organic gardening.
Brittney Nadler (2019–20) was recently awarded a Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship along with 45 other recipients. Funded by the U.S. Department of State and administered by Howard University, the fellowship prepares recipients for Foreign Service careers in the U.S. Department of State. It includes a two-year master’s degree in an area relevant to the Foreign Service, with extensive mentorship and internship opportunities. Nadler’s interest in foreign affairs was ignited at a young age when her mom exposed her to Newsweek magazine and she began reading about global issues. “I began to search online for opportunities to work abroad and came across Peace Corps. I turned to my mom and announced I’d someday join.” she shared in a 2019 interview with the Peace Corps.
Martin Puryear (1964–66), internationally renowned American sculptor, has been commissioned to create a site-specific, permanent sculpture for the Storm King Art Center in upstate New York. The 20 ft tall brick dome-like structure is Puryear’s first time working with brick and is scheduled to be unveiled later this year. “This work is different for me because it is permanent, and I’m taking the idea of permanence seriously—from the materials I proposed to work with and the methodology I’m trying to employ,” he said. Puryear infused the sculpture with historical and contemporary references ranging from Nubian vault-building techniques and an ancient building technique using mud bricks and other raw materials to the brick-and-stone Seventh Regiment Armory on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. In 2018, he was chosen to represent the U.S. and help showcase American excellence in the visual arts at the 58th Venice Biennale, one of the most influential international art exhibitions in the world. Last year, Puryear was presented with the 2022 J. Paul Getty Medal, which has been recognizing the extraordinary contributions to the practice, understanding, and support of the arts and humanities since 2013.
Reed Hastings (1983–85) in January announced that he will step down from his role as CEO of Netflix, while remaining as chairman. Hastings has led the company for 25 years, dating back to when Netflix’s initial rivals were movie rental chains, such as Blockbuster which ceased operating in 2014. Over the years, Hastings has consistently advocated for education reform, charter schools, and online learning. In addition to serving on the board of the California Board of Education and KIPP Foundation, he and his wife donated $120 million to HBCUs in 2020 after the police murder of George Floyd. In 2016, Hastings announced that he would fund a $100 million philanthropic fund focused on education. Prior to his entrepreneurial journey, he served as a Volunteer teaching math at a high school in rural northwest Swaziland. “Once you have hitchhiked across Africa with 10 bucks in your pocket, starting a business doesn’t seem too intimidating,” he said.