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Peace Corps Achievements – May and June 2023

News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff.

Compiled by Peter V. Deekle (Iran 1968–70)

Alexandria Dreher (pictured, Azerbaijan 2009–12), American Rescue Plan Program Manager in Oregon state’s Lane County, was unanimously appointed Cottage Grove Ward 4 City Councilor-at-Large by the Mayor and City Council this year. Joshuah Marshall (Morocco 2007–09) joined the Biden Administration in March as Senior Advisor to the Director of Indian Health Service where he will be responsible for a variety of special analyses and high-level health policy matters. Ritu Bhatnagar (Nepal 1995–97) was awarded Distinguished Fellow status by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) — the highest membership honor the APA bestows upon members. We share more stories about an affiliate group supporting students and grassroots endeavors in Belize, a Master Gardener of the Year, and more.

 

AZERBAIJAN

Alexandria Kassman Dreher (2009–12), American Rescue Plan Program Manager in Oregon state’s Lane County, was unanimously appointed Cottage Grove Ward 4 City Councilor-at-Large by the Mayor and City Council in January 2023. With a background in macro social work, grant administration, and community development, Dreher brings years of experience working in local government. Her passion for civic engagement has motivated her to serve in community-focused positions, such as Lane County’s Homeless Services Supervisor and Anti-poverty Program Services Coordinator as well as various leadership roles with the county’s United Way. “My goals for this position are to bring people together and build community,” Dreher said. “We have been painfully socially distanced due to the pandemic and I look forward to getting to working together in community again. Virtually when it is convenient and necessary, but most importantly in person as well.” Before moving to Oregon, she worked at the School of Social Work at Arizona State University and taught macro social work concepts ranging from community organizing and public policy analysis to advocacy and LGBTQ studies.

 

BELIZE

Full Basket Belize (FBB), a volunteer-run organization founded by a handful of Belize RPCVs and friends since 2005, is supporting 11 project grants worth $1000 this year. For nearly two decades, Full Basket Belize has provided community grants for grassroots endeavors throughout Belize to support local communities with issues such as education, health, environment, youth and community economic development. Most of FBB’s board members volunteered, worked, vacationed, and/or lived in Belize — such as Jo Link (2000–02) a retired math and computer science secondary school teacher who joined Peace Corps Belize with her husband Bob. As an Information Technology Volunteer, Link taught computer literacy to public school teachers and English to Spanish-speaking refugees from other Central American countries. She currently serves as FBB’s scholarships chair and publicity committee co-chair. For the 2023-24 school year, FBB will be supporting 45 Belizean high school students with $500 scholarships to help pay for students’ tuition, fees, books, and uniforms. Learn more about Full Basket Belize here.

 

COLOMBIA

Robert Findlay (1963–65), a professor emeritus of architecture, was named the Washington State University (WSU) Thurston County Master Gardener of the Year. The award from the WSU Master Gardener Foundation recognizes an active volunteer who makes a lasting contribution to the Master Gardener program and provides leadership at the county and state levels. After retiring from teaching architecture Findlay in 2002 at age 60, Findlay focused on his passion for gardening. He has been a docent, board member, architectural consultant, and archivist for the historic Dunn Gardens in Seattle and supports the Master Gardener Foundation and Demonstration Gardens in Thurston County, WA. Findlay has enhanced and developed gardening initiatives in Washington state’s West Olympia area to support a variety of programs, such as adaptation to climate change, food production for the local food back, children’s educations programs and composting. When asked about the award, Findlay said, “Receiving the Master Gardener award this year reassured me that it was all worth the effort.” Beyond gardening, Findlay’s lifelong commitment to service and the Peace Corps inspired him to serve as a NPCA board member from 2003–08, as a three-time Volunteer of Peace Corps’ Crisis Response program (which became known as Peace Corps Response in 2007), and as ‘convener’ of the Olympia Area Peace Corps Association for twenty years.

 

 IRAN

John Lorentz (1962–64) was appointed Emeritus Professor of History at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio. During his tenure at Shawnee State, which spans over three decades, Lorentz taught Middle East history and became Founding Director of the university’s Center for International Programs and Activities. He has received various awards in recognition of his extensive academic career, including a Distinguished Teacher Award as well as a cash award and plaque for distinguished teaching and service. The City of Portsmouth honored him with what he describes as the highest award existing by adding his name and title for permanent display to the “Wall of Stars” on Portsmouth’s floodwall, which protects the city from Ohio River floods. This honor recognizes Lorentz’s historical preservation efforts to capture and amplify the stories of the survivors of the devastating 1937 flood. Co-founding Lorentz Films with his son, Lorentz embarked on a documentary filmmaking journey to tell the stories of the 1937 flood and the mural project that was completed in 2002 to illustrate the history of the Portsmouth area.

 

MOROCCO

Matthew Heller (2007–09) will begin a two-year assignment as the first embedded psychiatrist at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Arizona this July. Following his Peace Corps service, Heller completed a premedical program at Bryn Mawr College prior to graduating from the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine in 2019. He is currently serving as an active duty Naval officer based at Maryland’s Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he is expected to complete his residency in psychiatry in June 2023. Formerly, Heller has worked with Community of Hope in Washington, D.C. — helping tackle health issues through his various positions which include Community HealthCorps Member, Quality Manager for Health Services, and Public Health Intern.

 

 

Joshuah Marshall (2007–09) joined the Biden Administration in March 2023 as Senior Advisor to the Director of Indian Health Service where he will be responsible for a variety of special analyses and high-level health policy matters. Marshall, who is from the Wind River Indian Reservation, has had an extensive career serving the needs of Native Americans. Prior to this position, he was a senior policy analyst and then senior manager for strategic projects and initiatives at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. While at the Center, he focused on state fiscal policy, anti-poverty programs, racial equity and tax policy, and tribal-state policy. This included driving key initiatives with the State Priorities Partnership, a network of 43 state-based progressive tax and budget think tanks the Center coordinates, to integrate racial equity and pro-tribal sovereignty frameworks into the network’s policy and advocacy work. He previously worked at Administration for Children and Families (ACF), first for the Administration for Native Americans and then the Tribal Home Visiting program, as well as Tribal Tech, LLC.

 

LIBERIA

Jacque Zoccoli (1966–68) has represented her Peace Corps experience through a variety of leadership initiatives. She currently serves as an Associate Country Director within Lifesavers Ambassadors International USA — a nonprofit established for the empowerment and sustainability of girls and women globally. In 2016, Zoccoli founded the Manifesting Global Solutions Group, offering global resources to developing communities. She also edits the annual newsletter for Liberia Group IX.

 

 

 

NEPAL

Ritu Bhatnagar (1995–97) was awarded Distinguished Fellow status by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) — the highest membership honor the APA bestows upon members. Bhatnagar is an Addiction Psychiatrist and Director of Psychiatric Services at the University of Wisconsin (Madison) with a specialty in addiction medicine. She is serving as president of the Wisconsin Society of Addiction Medicine (WISAM), WISAM representative to the Council on Legislation for the Wisconsin Medical Society, and University of Wisconsin Opioid Treatment Task Force member. Bhatnagar is the medical co-director of the NewStart addiction service within UnityPoint Health-Meriter in Madison where she has initiated and maintained a Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention Group. In her free time, she volunteers for various organizations, including Safe Communities of Madison-Dane County where she seeks to innovate ways to address the impact of substance abuse and mental health issues. Through her experience, she has helped implement a standardized response for people presenting after an opioid overdose among Emergency Departments to connect them to ongoing care in the community.

 

TOGO

Andrew Berman (1967–69) has maintained a lifelong passion for peace and justice activism, while continuing to use his language and teaching skills in service of others. He has been tutoring a Ukrainian teenager math via the Internet as well as successfully tutoring spoken English for over three years to a Syrian refugee, enabling him to complete the pursuit of a Master’s Degree in Chemistry. Berman served his country both throughout his time in Peace Corps as well as the US Army. During his Peace Corps service, he taught math in French over the school years. In the summer months, Berman went to Benin to work on a WHO smallpox eradication project. He rode a motorcycle with vaccine and student translator, traveling to remote villages reachable only by walking paths. As a telecommunications engineer, he helped repair Nicaragua’s telecom equipment during the Contra war. He is a distinguished Member of Technical Staff at Bell Laboratories.