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 and Priyasha Chakravarti
Jon Santiago (pictured, Dominican Republic 2006–08) became Massachusetts’ first-ever Secretary of the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services on March 1, overseeing facilities and benefits for more than 270,000 veterans in the state. Johnnie Carson (Tanzania 1965–68) was appointed as the Special Presidential Representative for U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Implementation last December. Peggy Walton (Ukraine 1994–96; 2013–16) a retired teacher, enrolled to participate in the Peace Corps Virtual Service Pilot Program in Ukraine, an active war zone. We also share more stories of RPCVs who are supporting communities in Ukraine as well as an RPCV Physician supporting migrants and refugees arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.
Andre Boyer (2015–17; Georgia 2017–18) participated in the Peace Corps’ Virtual Service Pilot Program in the fall of 2022, serving a community in Ukraine while it was an active war zone. As part of his 18-week assignment, Boyer collaborated with his host country partner, the Mohyliv-Podilskyi Department of Secondary Education, leveraging virtual technologies to develop resources and workshops that would help build capacity among local Ukrainian English teachers and strengthen their language skills. The teachers did not allow the challenges of war to hinder them from participating in the offered workshops. “Because of the war in Ukraine, the power grid was targeted, and in many places, the residents are without power,” Boyer said. “One participant was so dedicated to sharing her online teaching technique activity that she held her phone over her head in one hand so we could see her as she presented.” Boyer’ years of experience teaching English as a Foreign Language (EFL) ranges from teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at the University of California, San Diego; working as an ESL Specialist for the U.S. Department of State; and serving as a Supervisory ESL Specialist at the Defense Language Institute English Language Center. In 2018, Boyer became an English Language Fellow in Narva, Estonia, where he taught English as a Foreign Language at Narva College, facilitated teacher training sessions for vocational schools, and led activities related to U.S. culture, economy. literature, and history. Prior to that he served as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Georgia to train teachers and co-teach EFL classes.
Jon Santiago (2006–08) was appointed Massachusetts’ first-ever Secretary of the Executive Office of Veterans’ Services on March 1. Representative Santiago will be responsible for overseeing facilities and benefits for more than 270,000 veterans in Massachusetts as well as working with the new Veterans’ Homes Council which provides policy recommendations and identifies areas of improvement for veterans’ homes. With the passage of a 2022 bill responding to the mismanagement and oversight of two Veterans’ homes in Holyoke and Chelsea that caused a deadly COVID-19 outbreak and poor work conditions, Representative Santiago has a major trust-building component to his role. “My task really is to build out the foundation in order to do the job that we need to do,” Representative Santiago said. “I want to make sure that every veteran knows that we have their back and we’re committed to working with them.” In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he doubled his hours at the ER and decided to serve as a member of the House of Representatives COVID-19 Working Group, advising policymaking and ensuring state government accountability. Representative Santiago also advocated for legislation supporting equitable distribution of vaccinations to working families and communities of color throughout Boston. Since 2019, Representative Santiago served as the 9th Suffolk District’s state representative and championed for issues ranging from affordable housing and accessible healthcare to substance use and other health disparities.
Johnnie Carson (Tanzania 1965–68) was appointed as the Special Presidential Representative for U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit Implementation last December — while maintaining his current position as senior advisor for the U.S. Institute of Peace’s (USIP) Africa Center. In this position, Ambassador Carson is charged with ensuring implementation of the United States commitment to deepening partnerships with African countries which is a commitment made at last year’s Summit. Ambassador Carson will manage efforts in expanding collaborations between the U.S. and African governments, civil society, the private sector, and diaspora representatives. He brings to the new appointment nearly four decades of Foreign Service experience, having served as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs; the Ambassador to Kenya, Uganda, and Zimbabwe; and the National Intelligence Officer for Africa.
Nick Denson (2018–20) facilitated the webinar called “Using Art Therapy in Inclusive Classroom” in January. Attended by 65 teachers, social workers, and student assistants, the webinar was part of Denson’s service work in Peace Corps’ Virtual Service Pilot Program. As a board-certified art therapist and counselor with seven years of experience, Denson explored how art therapy can be applied to classrooms containing children with autism spectrum disorder for life skills development and socialization. As a pilot participant, Denson helps support displaced youth with special needs and their caregivers as well as guide teachers with their mental health and special education approaches amidst the ongoing war in Ukraine. His background in health also includes experience working as an art therapist at McClendon Center in Washington, D.C., before joining the Peace Corps as a Maternal and Child Health Volunteer.
Peggy Walton (1994–96; 2013–16), a retired teacher, enrolled to participate in the Peace Corps Virtual Service Pilot Program in Ukraine, an active war zone. Walton has been co-facilitating English clubs, allowing local university students to develop and strengthen their conversational English skills. Walton’s commitment to serving communities in Ukraine spans nearly 30 years, starting when she first joined the Peace Corps at age 48 in 1994. Prior to her first service, she worked at a community college first as a program director before shifting into a role teaching English. She returned to Ukraine two more times as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer. Walton’s main responsibilities during each service involved teaching native English teachers conversational English. In celebration of Peace Corps Ukraine’s 30th anniversary in 2022, Walton helped conduct oral history interviews with fellow RPCVs and host country counterparts.
Ted Webne (Ukraine 2016–18) joined the Peace Corps’ Virtual Service Pilot Program in Ukraine to help combat veterans improve their conversational English. Working alongside a local NGO, Webne has been co-leading English clubs that meet weekly with a small group of veterans to practice using the English language to engage in casual conversations around various topics such as sports, music, and food. This pilot program builds on Webne’s Peace Corps service in Ukraine, where he taught English at a secondary school and worked with local English teachers to create and implement lesson plans. After returning to the U.S. after his service with Peace Corps Ukraine in 2018, Webne obtained his master’s in public administration at George Mason. That same year, he became a Virginia Governor’s Fellow working under Virginia Secretary of Finance Aubrey Lane to gain hands-on experience with policy at the state level.
Brian Elmore (2015–17), an emergency medicine doctor, leads the El Paso-based Clínica Hope, a medical clinic supporting migrants arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border. Launched in October 2022 by the Hope Border Institute, the volunteer-run clinic provides free medication and basic healthcare from medical professionals with experience ranging from family medicine and pediatrics to psychiatry and emergency medicine. Two months into his work at the clinic, Elmore had treated respiratory viruses, mental health concerns, and other medical emergencies for more than 100 migrants. “Our responsibility and our task is to bridge the gap between the America that is and the America that these asylum-seekers and refugees believe in,” Elmore said. His current work builds on his experience as a student at the Medical University of South Carolina, where he founded a student-run asylum evaluation clinic that documented signs of physical and emotional trauma to be used as evidence in asylum court cases. Last month, Elmore was the featured guest at the Peace Corps for Refugees affiliate group’s exclusive event where he shared his first-hand experience working with refugees and migrants on the front line through the clinic.