Orrin Luc posted an articleParting advice from a writer and friend see more
Parting advice from a writer and friend
By Steven Boyd Saum
Almost three decades ago, before I left California to begin serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ukraine, my friend Clark Blaise passed along the phone number for a fellow writer he knew in Kyiv. Yaroslav Stelmakh was the first Ukrainian to receive a fellowship to attend the International Writing Program at Iowa — a program that Clark directed and, since 1967, has connected well-established writers from around the globe.
Slava Stelmakh (that's him on the left) was primarily a playwright — and staking out what was newly possible to say and do on the page, stage, and screen following the end of the Soviet regime. That included humor and delight and exploring the boundaries of genre; he wrote the first Ukrainian rock opera, about a comical Napoleon-like figure. He also was heir to a writerly name; his father, Mykhailo Stelmakh, was a well-known writer of novels, poetry, and drama.
The first time I spoke to Slava, I had only been in Ukraine a couple weeks; I was staying with a family on the western outskirts of Kyiv. My host mother, Halia, was positively giddy when Slava called and arranged to pick me up the next morning. For breakfast Slava cooked potatoes and onions and eggs — call it a temporary bachelor’s frittata — and, because a director friend from Kharkiv had just arrived by overnight train, Slava opened a bottle of homemade horilka. It was the beginning of a friendship that has carried on across the years. But it’s one that has had to be nurtured solely by the spirit of Slava for a long time; Slava was killed in a car crash in 2001. Yet he remains someone who exerts a gravitational pull for me and others — writers, singers, educators, and friends who animate the intellectual and cultural life of Ukraine, who sustain an awareness of the past and how it shapes what is possible now and in the future. Then, as now, the Holodomor looms large — that artificial famine in the 1930s, inflicted as an act of genocide.
Once more hunger is a weapon. And day after day, Russian missiles strike apartment buildings and hospitals and other civilian infrastructure. For the people of Ukraine it is literally a battle of darkness and light. For all of us, a reminder: Now is not the time to turn away. It’s a time to raise our voices and lift a hand, however we can.
“Now is not the time to turn away. It’s a time to raise our voices and lift a hand, however we can.”
In September, when Congressman John Garamendi spoke in the House of Representatives of the need to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act, he drew attention to the thousands of Peace Corps Volunteers who had served in Ukraine. It was to drive home the fact that this very personal grassroots work, over decades together in communities, takes on a significance rarely apparent in the moment.
As it happens, the House vote came just days after the special 60th anniversary edition of WorldView picked up top honors at the FOLIO Magazine Awards. Garamendi’s staff worked with colleagues here at NPCA to make sure copies of that edition were placed where representatives wouldn’t miss them—a physical reminder of the legacy of this global Peace Corps endeavor launched by President Kennedy, and of a responsibility we owe to things larger than ourselves.
Also as it happens, I spent a couple days with Clark Blaise in New York around that awards gala. Clark was a gracious host, as always. (It was also a special time for Clark, now 83 years old: He was celebrating the soon-to-be publication of This Time, That Place, a new volume of his selected stories, with a foreword by Margaret Atwood.) We shared stories of Slava Stelmakh, of course — and of threads woven through lives and across continents and decades. When I headed out the door to catch my plane, Clark’s parting words of fatherly advice were: “Be good, be kind, and be lucky.”
One could do worse than take that to heart. Though the last one is tricky, isn’t it? Which puts an even greater imperative on the first two — traits too often in short supply.
As we’ve noted time and again, the past several years have been unprecedented in so many ways. For the Peace Corps community: global evacuation. Reimagining, reshaping, and retooling the Peace Corps. And Volunteers returning to service. Here at NPCA, we were fortunate to have Glenn Blumhorst leading during a critical time — harnessing community efforts with a sense of shared responsibility and possibility. For example, leading the steering committee on the “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report was Joel Rubin — who had served in the Obama administration, and later came on board at NPCA to serve as vice president for global policy and public affairs. It’s been a privilege to shoulder this common load.
As I step down from leading work on WorldView, I’m grateful for the talent and imagination by all who have contributed to the print and digital magazine. Special thanks to art director extraordinaire Pamela Fogg, whose first edition grappled with the evacuation of Volunteers — and has brought intelligence and vibrance to the magazine. Readers are lucky Pam came on board. And staying.
Steven Boyd Saum served as editor of WorldView and director of strategic communications for NPCA. He was a Volunteer in Ukraine 1994–96.
Steven Saum posted an articleWe celebrate return of Volunteers to service. And pay tribute to a leader at NPCA. see more
As we celebrate Volunteers returning to service in dozens of countries, we pay tribute to a leader here at NPCA who made a difference at a critical time for the Peace Corps community.
By Dan Baker
At left: El Paso, 2019 — Glenn Blumhorst assists migrants at the border.
Just as the Winter 2023 edition of WorldView went press, Carol Spahn was sworn in as Director of the Peace Corps. I was delighted to be there as RPCV Rep. John Garamendi delivered the oath of office. This is an exciting and important moment. The Peace Corps community has spent nearly three years seeking to maintain and restore Volunteer programs across the world. There have been enormous obstacles, and the Peace Corps has emerged from the pandemic with a renewed clarity of purpose, better Volunteer services, and an undeniable sense of urgency that it hasn’t seen since its inception. And at the beginning of 2023, the return to service continues to gain strength and momentum, thanks to the hard work of hundreds of local Peace Corps staff, agency leaders, health and safety professionals, recruiters, and all of those who make these programs possible. We especially celebrate Volunteers boldly leading the way into the new Peace Corps.
The pandemic forced National Peace Corps Association, like many organizations, to pivot in unforeseeable ways. The past few years have arguably been the most important in the history of this community-driven organization. NPCA itself looks much different than it did even one year ago. One of the key changes we must acknowledge was the departure last year of NPCA’s longest-serving president and CEO, Glenn Blumhorst.
We celebrate Glenn’s important new role with the Peace Corps Commemorative Foundation, which will establish a commemorative just steps from the Capitol. At the same time, many at NPCA will greatly miss his leadership of the organization. I find it fitting to honor his tenure at NPCA in this edition of WorldView by sharing some of his Peace Corps story — and a few of his most important achievements.
Glenn launched his career with the Peace Corps, serving as an agriculture extension Volunteer in Guatemala 1988–91, supporting 18 rural Mayan Indian communities in the central highlands. Those who know his skills and dedication to service would not be surprised to know how successful he was as a Volunteer, working to increase household incomes, build an elementary school, and bring electricity to a remote village of 40 families. That work led him to nearly two decades of increasing leadership roles with the international development organization ACDI/VOCA. Then, in 2013, following a national search by NPCA, Glenn was brought on to serve as its president and CEO.
Community partners: In the highlands of Guatemala, from left, Manuel Alvarado, Tiburcio Alvarado, Carmelina Alvarado Gonzales, and Volunteer Glenn Blumhorst. Photo courtesy Glenn Blumhorst
Glenn soon set to work transforming NPCA: guiding the organization from struggling alumni association to a dynamic community-driven social impact enterprise. That new vision was informed in large part by Glenn’s “listening tours” across the country — meeting with NPCA affiliate group leaders, donors, and individual members to better understand their priorities. His travels took him to meet with members of the Peace Corps community in all 50 states — at potluck dinners and annual meetings, community service projects and RPCV reunions — to listen and share experiences and, together, plan for the future.
Glenn restored and strengthened NPCA’s financial health by adopting a new business model: moving away from a dues-paying membership to opening membership to all. NPCA invited community members to invest in and support causes they care about, and NPCA provided avenues for voluntary financial contributions. That quadrupled annual revenues, enabled us to triple our staff and grow programs, and exponentially increased member engagement in NPCA’s mission. RPCV affiliate groups grew as well, from 130 to 185 under Glenn’s leadership, with many focusing explicitly on specific social impact causes.
Glenn helped modernize NPCA’s advocacy program and grew constituent outreach. That fed successful efforts to increase Peace Corps’ federal appropriations by $30 million — and it helped fend off attempts to slash the agency’s budget (even defund it!) as well thwart an ill-advised attempt to fold the Peace Corps into the State Department. Along the way, Glenn ensured NPCA never lost sight of important reforms needed within the agency to improve Volunteer safety, security, healthcare, and post-service benefits. A milestone in that work: The Sam Farr and Nick Castle Peace Corps Reform Act, signed into law in 2018, which improved the provisioning of healthcare for Volunteers, program oversight, and how the agency handles sexual assault allegations.
Living Peace Corps Ideals
The lack of services for returning Volunteers is something Glenn understood. He worked with NPCA to put in place — well before COVID-19 hit — the framework for the Global Reentry Program. That program was launched immediately when the global evacuation of Volunteers was announced in March 2020. (I stepped down from the NPCA Board to join the staff as director of the program.) The long-term vision is to provide a bridge between Volunteers’ service and a lifetime of Peace Corps ideals.
Amid the turmoil of the pandemic’s early days, NPCA also successfully lobbied for $88 million in additional support for Volunteers; and NPCA worked to get the U.S. Department of Labor to issue guidelines that evacuated Volunteers were eligible for help under the Pandemic Assistance Program.
Global partnership: In 2015 with Michelle Obama and President Barack Obama, Glenn Blumhorst marks the launch of the Let Girls Learn initiative. Photo by Pete Souza/The White House
In summer 2020, harnessing the experience, commitment, and innovative ideas of the Peace Corps community, NPCA convened a series of national town halls and a global ideas summit under the title Peace Corps Connect to the Future. A community-driven report from the summit contained over 220 recommendations to Congress, the Peace Corps agency and executive branch, and the Peace Corps community. It has served as a vital roadmap for many reforms and improvements that began being implemented by Peace Corps leadership prior to the return of Volunteers to service. It’s fair to say this community-driven effort also laid the groundwork for some of the most sweeping Peace Corps legislation proposals in a generation.
These are just a few of the initiatives Glenn led NPCA to tackle. There is the launch of the Community Fund to support community projects by Volunteers, returned Volunteers — and, beginning in 2020, evacuated Volunteers — in the U.S. and globally. There is the Benevolent Fund, to support RPCVs experiencing acute hardship. And in the future, there will be Peace Corps Place, envisioned as a hub for the Peace Corps community in the Truxton Circle neighborhood in Washington, D.C.
Glenn has begun leading a multimillion-dollar capital campaign to underwrite design and construction of the Peace Corps Commemorative. It will honor the creation of the Peace Corps in 1961 and those aspects of the American character exemplified by Peace Corps service. We are deeply grateful to Glenn for his past, present, and future service to Peace Corps ideals, and we look forward to celebrating this commemorative together when it is completed.
As a part of all that NPCA has accomplished under Glenn’s leadership, we have seen tremendous growth in how NPCA tells its stories. The past three years this work has been led by Director of Strategic Communications and Editor of WorldView Steven Saum. With thought and care, the WorldView team has crafted a magazine of powerful stories and images. Those efforts have earned top national awards the past two years. Behind the scenes, Steven also orchestrated NPCA’s social media presence, newsletters, and other publications — notably the “Peace Corps Connect to the Future” report. We are sorry to announce that this will be Steven’s last edition of WorldView magazine as he moves into a new role in California.
Interim successors for Glenn and Steven are in place, but we will stand on their shoulders as we move into the next chapters of support for a united and vibrant Peace Corps community. Please keep in touch, and stay connected online and through our email newsletters. And watch for more important Peace Corps news in upcoming editions of WorldView.
Dan Baker is President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Bolivia 1999–2002 and Timor-Leste 2002–03, and with Peace Corps staff in Washington, D.C., Costa Rica, and Ethiopia. Write him.