We are listening, and we stand in solidarity with all who are actively driving efforts for change. see more
Ideas and actions — and the principles that guide us
By Maricarmen Smith-Martinez and Glenn Blumhorst
As Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, current and former staff, host country nationals, family, and friends, we uphold a commitment to creating a better world, one that promotes world peace and friendship. In this spirit, National Peace Corps Association envisions a united and vibrant Peace Corps community. We Stand Against Racial Injustice and affirm our commitment to empathy and justice — around the world, and here at home.
Yet in the midst of national unrest ignited by systemic injustice, a vision of unity and vibrance is not enough. We must take more concrete steps to ensure a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture for all RPCVs and members of our community.
Evidence of racial inequity exists in many forms, and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed deep systemic problems in our country. Continued violence and police brutality against the Black community has ignited protests from coast to coast — and in scores of other countries. Economic insecurity, impacting tens of millions of Americans, disproportionately impacts people of color. Black Americans are dying at higher rates due to health disparities rooted in a problematic healthcare system. And while the ongoing struggle for racial equity and social justice resonates strongly with core Peace Corps values, Volunteers of color continue to share challenges of racism, bias, and exclusivity, describing experiences during recruitment, in service, and after returning home.
It is humbling to acknowledge shortcomings, and it is difficult to change a system — but we will not succeed if we do not try. Inherent in this effort is the need for change within NPCA itself. Our staff and Board of Directors must consistently reflect the diversity we champion. Our programming must proactively incorporate values of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Roadmap for the Future
To that end, the NPCA Board of Directors is charting a course for progress toward a more diverse and inclusive culture within our Board of Directors, our staff, and our Peace Corps community. We are developing a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Framework with cross-cutting priorities across our strategic plan, addressing the need for systemic change not only within our organization but also within Peace Corps, in our membership and Affiliate Group Network, and in our global social impact.
As a starting point, the policy will serve to:
Ensure diversity and inclusion within the NPCA staff and Board.
Ensure training to improve the organization and the workplace, such as training to better understand unconscious bias.
Support efforts to help the Peace Corps be the best it can be and address racism and inequity within the institution.
Support efforts to empower members and affiliate groups to thrive by ensuring opportunity for diversity and inclusion at NPCA events such as Peace Corps Connect; enhancing outreach efforts to RPCVs and affiliate groups of color; and building capacity for the Affiliate Group Network to facilitate conversations about social justice and to mobilize members to take action.
Support efforts to amplify the Peace Corps community’s global social impact by proactively seeking applications for projects that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion — bolstering work with minority-owned startup enterprises and leveraging our new home at Peace Corps Place in the Truxton Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C., to engage in activities that address systemic racism.
Join Us in this Work
Our board and staff have taken the first steps to demonstrate NPCA’s proactive and deliberate leadership reflected on our new We Stand Together For Change web page. NPCA has also adapted existing tools to contact Congressional representatives, leveraging opportunities for RPCVs to advocate for racial equity and social justice legislation. We facilitated a Group Leaders Discussion: Affiliate Group Stand for Racial Justice. Our staff has formed a DEI Working Group with dedicated hours and budget. And we have more work to undertake together.
We understand that RPCVs are ready to support this cause. We recognize the difficulty of sharing experiences with racism and bias — from decades past or just last week. And we applaud those who are able to speak out and voice their experiences. We also acknowledge the discomfort of approaching conversations about race from a point of privilege. We commend the RPCVs and affiliate groups that have facilitated events, such as the RPCV/W Town Hall for Racial Justice, to not only advance the conversation but also take action.
We are listening, and we stand in solidarity with all who are actively driving efforts for change. On behalf of the NPCA Board and leadership, we seek your feedback, encourage your recommendations, and invite your ideas. And we welcome your shared commitment to this crucial work now — and for the long haul.
Maricarmen Smith-Martinez is Chair of the Board of Directors for National Peace Corps Association. She served as a Volunteer in Costa Rica 2006–08.
Glenn Blumhorst is President and CEO of National Peace Corps Association. He served as a Volunteer in Guatemala 1988–91.
Communications Intern posted an articleAchievements in the Peace Corps community from across the country -- and around the world see more
News and updates from the Peace Corps community — across the country, around the world, and spanning generations of returned Volunteers and staff
By Peter Deekle (Iran 1968–70)
Pioneering Black women in leadership roles with the Department of Labor and Department of State. Bringing expertise to work on the National Security Council and in the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. Recognition for work toward equity in health and forest stewardship. And a new role in journalism.
Photo: A Twitter moment with Janelle Jones, the new chief economist for the Department of Labor. She’s the first Black woman to serve in that role.
Erin Swiader took on responsibilities in January 2021 as Acting Forest Supervisor for the Santa Fe National Forest in northern New Mexico. She will oversee the management, protection, and productivity of the 1.6 million acres of the national forest. Swiader comes to this role from the Northern Region for the Forest Service, where she serves as chief of staff. The Northern Region is headquartered in Missoula, Montana, and encompasses nine national forests and the Dakota Prairie Grasslands across five states.
Jalina Porter (2009-2011) was appointed in January 2021 to serve as deputy spokesperson for the U.S. State Department. She is the first Black woman in history to serve in that role. She was formerly communications director for Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA), who has been appointed a senior advisor to the Biden Administration. Learn more about Porter and read her interview with civil rights attorney Elaine Jones in the new edition of WorldView magazine.
Maurice Lee has received the Fifth Annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Award for Health Equity. The award, presented by the National Association of Free and Charitable Clinics, began in 2016. Dr. Lee is Chief Medical Officer and Medical Director of St. Vincent de Paul’s Virginia G. Piper Medical and Dental Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona. In 2016 Dr. Lee founded the Arizona Safety Net, collaboration among 40+ Phoenix-area free and low-cost clinics aimed at improving health equity for Arizona’s uninsured.
Topaz Smith is the founder and CEO of EN-NOBEL, with a vision to improve global peacefulness and sustainable socioeconomics in culturally rich communities.
Megan Vigil was recently appointed by the Lake County Commissioners as the county’s new Public Health Officer. She is a family practice physician with St. Luke Community Healthcare in Ronan, Montana.
Juan Gonzalez (2001–04) has taken on responsibilities as Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for the Western Hemisphere. He previously served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs during the Obama administration.
Steven Lawrence is an adjunct professor of American government at Walters State Community College. He has been appointed as a Hamblen County Election Commissioner by the Tennessee State Election Commission.
Michaela Washington (2018–20) was sworn in in December 2020 as an Equal Opportunity Specialist with the Chicago’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
Robert Allen Jr. (2019–20) has been selected as a 2021 Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellow. The fellowship is funded by the U.S. Department of State, administered by Howard University, attracting and preparing outstanding young people for Foreign Service careers in the U.S. Department of State. It welcomes the application of members of minority groups historically underrepresented in the State Department.
Ethan Fogg (2017–19) has begun an 11-month internship to bolster community and economic development efforts undertaken by Grow Gillespie, the local volunteer group focused on the economic growth of Gillespie, Illinois.
Stacie Haines (1997–2000) is the development director at Maine Conservation Voters, and has been appointed by the governor as an expert in the delivery of environmental services to communities and individuals.
John D. Mann (1988–91) has been reappointed by Californiia Governor Gavin Newsom as Deputy Director of Legislation at the California Department of Technology, where he has served since 2017. He served as communications director in the Office of California State Senator Tony Mendoza from 2014 to 2017, and as communications director on the Alex Padilla for Secretary of State Campaign from 2013 to 2014, and in the Office of California State Senator Alex Padilla from 2011 to 2014.
Robin Martz (1993-1995) is the director of the USAID Rwanda Health Office. She has worked on maternal and child health in Laos, polio in Afghanistan, HIV in Haiti, and emerging pandemic threats in Thailand and Cambodia.
Brendan O’Brien assumed the position of the Charge d’Affaires of the United States Embassy in San Salvador in January. Previously, he served as Deputy Chief of Mission (2019–21), Consul General at the United States Embassy in San Salvador (2017–19), and at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires. Aires, Argentina (2014–17).
Janelle Jones has taken on the role of Chief Economist for the U.S. Department of Labor — the first Black woman to serve in this top post. Previously, she has worked for the Economic Policy Institute (2016–18) and the Center for Economic and Policy Research (2011–14). One place to start to learn more about her work and ideas: a piece she co-authored last summer for the Washington Post, “The Federal Reserve could help make the job market fairer for Black workers.”
Rajiv Joseph’s play, “Red Folder,” is the opening production for the new year by the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago. It is the third of six productions debuting on its Steppenwolf NOW virtual stage.
E. Scott Osborne (1980–82) is the president of the board of the Gulf Coast chapter of UN Women USA. She leads seminars on gender equality and speaks often to young people in the Sarasota, Florida, area. She has also raised the profile of the nonprofit organization’s Through Women’s Eyes film festival, an annual event that screens films by women directors from around the world. The festival is now in its 22nd year.
James Wilterding was appointed in January to serve as executive director of University of New Mexico Student Health and Counseling (SHAC). The pandemic has emphasized the essential role healthy campus communities have on student success.
Andy Blye (2017-2018) was hired by the Phoenix Business Journal to cover financial services and technology. Previously, he was a reporting intern at Dow Jones News Fund. He was also a graduate assistant at Arizona State University and has served as a market intelligence specialist at bChannels.
Community news highlighting achievements of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers see more
Achievements in the Peace Corps community from across the country — and around the world
By Peter Deekle (Iran 1968–70)
From new books to leadership roles, working with students and refugees, in conservation and the church. Plus a story of gratitude for all the Volunteers who served in Korea — with a thank-you and help in a time of pandemic.
Photo: Shenna Bellows, who served as a Volunteer in Panama, is sworn in as Maine’s Secretary of State — the first woman to serve in that role.
Connie Czepiel (2009–11) has a career in international finance. She is also recently author of Dream On! The Alarm Clock of Your Life Hasn’t Gone Off Yet, a chronicle of her overseas work for Mission Aviation Fellowship, Peace Corps, Mercy Ships, and Samaritan’s Purse.
Marni von Wilpert (2006–08) was one of five new members joining the San Diego City Council in December 2020. She was a social worker for the Peace Corps in Botswana during an AIDS epidemic there, providing experience with virus testing and contact tracing for today’s pandemic.
Felicia Singh (2013–15) is a Democratic Party candidate for New York City District Council 32, with education reform as a major campaign objective along with utility management and women’s empowerment. The election will be held in June 2021.
Jim LaBate began his Peace Corps service in the mid-1970s in Costa Rica. He recently retired from Hudson Valley Community College where has was a writing specialist. His sixth novel, Streets of Golfito, published in 2020 is loosely based on his Peace Corps experience.
Polly Dunford was named president and CEO of IntraHealth International, a large global health organization based in Chapel Hill, North Carolina just as Covid-19 was emerging as a threat to the world.
Edward Crawford (2004–06) is the co-founder and president of Coltala Holdings in Dallas, Texas. He recently announced a $150 million partnership with Trive Capital. He has authored works regarding “conscious capitalism” and the potential rise of this socially responsible economic and political philosophy. Crawford is also in the inaugural cohort of the National Peace Corps Association 40 Under 40.
Mildred Warner (1979–81) received the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, Inc. (ACSP) Margarita McCoy Faculty Award for the advancement of women in planning in higher education through service, teaching, and research in November 2020.
Father Michael Fuller, a priest of the Diocese of Rockford, Illinois, has been named associate general secretary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in November 2020. Before arriving at the USCCB, he served as chairman of the Department of Spiritual Theology from 2011 to 2016 and chairman of the Department of Christian Life from 2002 to 2011 (University of St. Mary of the Lake/Mundelein Seminary). He also was editor of the Chicago Studies Theological Journal.
Christen Marie Smith (2007–09) has taken a new role as Vice President of LMI federal health and civilian market. She aims to continue LMI's efforts to help government customers manage health care delivery and federal work environments as well as drive scientific and space innovation efforts.
Jackson Willis has been named a Rhodes Scholar in the first-ever virtual selection process, necessary due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He will pursue Master of Science degrees in economics for development and in global governance and diplomacy at Oxford.
Michael Hotard (2009–11) manages research projects related to undocumented immigrants and health care at Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Lab. In late October 2020 he discussed the experiences and struggles that have shaped his career in an online presentation to current Stevenson Center Fellows at Illinois State University.
Sandra Nathan (1966–68) was among the Korea RPCVs who received a surprising gift from the people in her Peace Corps community more than fifty years earlier – a "COVID-19 Survival Box." The box containing expressions of concern and support was sent to former Volunteers who served in Korea during the early 1960s. Here’s the story from The New York Times.
Michael Drake is the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Taza Aya (“fresh air” in Krygyz). The company has been named an awardee in the Invisible Shield QuickFire Challenge, a competition created by Johnson & Johnson Innovation in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The program seeks protections from airborne viruses with minimal impact on daily life.
Randy Hobler (1968–69) interviewed 101 of his fellow RPCVs in depth for his new book: 101 Arabian Tales: How We All Persevered in Peace Corps Libya.
Zac Schnell (2012–14) was named the Pamlico Community College’s 2020 Instructor of the Year. He also began assisting with Occupational Safety and Health Administration training for Continuing Education students.
Cal Mann (2017–20) will share his experience as a Rotarian serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Eastern Europe before the 2020 pandemic evacuation. Tune in on February 11, 2021 with the Rotary Club of Northfield at 12:00 PM via Zoom (Meeting ID: 853 8396 5788; Passcode: 601997).
Kyle Fredrickson (2014–16) is District Forester for Aitkin County Soil and Water Conservation District. His work with an aerial drone for conservation purposes in the Minneapolis-St. Paul region has deepened understanding and created new educational opportunities. “To cross a wetland, it could take two to three hours to reach the site,” Hughes told a reporter recently. “The drone can do it in five minutes, plus we can’t get that perspective from the ground.”
Katie Murray is the new executive director of Oregonians for Food & Shelter (OFS), a nonprofit agribusiness group. At OFS she aims to safeguard necessary tools for natural resource industries while ensuring users aren’t left without alternatives if regulatory changes occur.
Shenna Bellows (2000–02) has been elected by Maine’s 130th Legislature to be Maine's new secretary of state. She is the first woman elected to serve in the role. During her remarks at her swearing-in in January, she noted that her grandmother, who celebrated her 101st birthday just days prior, was born in the year that saw the final ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote.
PAPUA NEW GUINEA
Christopher Davenport (1994–96) published the memoir Tin Can Crucible through Lume Books in December 2020. The title, an account of modern-day sorcery, was previously available via NetGalley. The author is a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State.
Estee Katcoff (2011–14) founded in 2016 the Superkids Foundation, a nonprofit in Paraguay that fills in literacy gaps and trains students to be educational leaders. In 2017 she founded GMAT/GRE test prep company PrepCorps in Seattle to recruit top test-takers to teach courses while fundraising $60,000+ for international education.
Jet Richardson (2008–10) has completed his first year as Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity Tri-County Partners. Prior to that he has completed nearly four years with the International Crisis Group — an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.
Adeel Amed has been appointed by the University of Nevada, Reno, Extension, College of Agriculture, Biotechnology and Natural Resources as Lyon County educator, focusing on community and economic development. He was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the United States as a child before entering college and serving in the Peace Corps.
Kari Miller (1997–99) is the Founder and Executive Director of International Neighbors. She works with Charlottesville, Virginia's refugee and SIV population (special immigrant visa holders, who worked for the United States during the conflicts in Afghanistan or Iraq), equipping these new neighbors with the network and skills needed for them to thrive — not just to survive — as aspiring Americans.
Dick Sandler is known as Thailand’s “Grandfather of eco-tourism” and was one of the early pioneers in Thailand’s now burgeoning eco-tourism sector. A Fulbright scholarship in research economics led to him joining Peace Corps staff in Thailand. He has also worked for the United Nations Development Fund and the World Bank, focusing on rural development projects. His latest resort project in Thailand is Our Jungle Camp in Khao Sok.
Melissa Wurst (1989–92) is the owner and founding member of Language Solutions, Inc. Founded in 1998, the enterprise is assisting those with limited literacy, translation, and interpreting skills.
Renee Manneh (2007–09) is a doctoral candidate at Campbell University for a degree in Health Sciences. She is the Executive Director at her private practice where she also sees clients as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Brianna Russell (2008–10) is the Founding Executive Director of Girls Leading Girls, Inc., a nonprofit organization in San Francisco that trains young women in leadership and life skills.
Please share your news with us! Email Peter Deekle.
Priority funding is available for projects that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion see more
National Peace Corps Association seeks proposals from Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, former Peace Corps staff, and affiliate groups for small projects that contribute to amplifying the Peace Corps community's global social impact
As part of National Peace Corps Association’s (NPCA) mission to amplify the Peace Corps community’s global social impact, the NPCA Community Fund supports community-based projects that make global giving more efficient, transparent, and effective through small grants. The Community Fund supports projects both internationally and in the United States in a variety of sectors. Projects are funded primarily through crowdfunding, and may be eligible for supplemental funding from NPCA on a case-by-case basis. NPCA seeks proposals from Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), former Peace Corps staff, and affiliate groups for small projects that contribute to amplifying the Peace Corps community’s global social impact. In our commitment to support communities of color, priority funding is available for projects that focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, inclusive of minority-owned startup enterprises and initiatives that advance racial justice.
Small Grants Program: Approach and Methodology
As a first step, prospective applicants should complete an expression of interest form. Eligible applicants will be invited to submit a grant application to NPCA in accordance with the established policies and procedures for the Community Fund. Applications for grants of less than $3,000 will be evaluated by an internal ad hoc grants committee. Applications for grants of $3,000 or more will be evaluated by NPCA’s Community Fund Advisory Committee.
Successful applicants will be invited to enter into a partnered campaign agreement with NPCA. Through NPCA’s Community Fund, the applicant and NPCA will jointly promote the applicant’s project or initiative to our public audiences, endeavoring to meet the mutually agreed upon fundraising goals through a crowdfunding approach. As appropriate, NPCA may seed or contribute to the campaign from other sources in order to reach fundraising goals in a timely manner.
Upon completion of the partnered campaign, NPCA will disburse the grant to recipient by installments in accordance with an agreed-upon schedule of disbursements.
Eligible Applicants | Eligible applicants must meet one of the following eligibility criteria:
- Social enterprises founded by individual RPCVs or former Peace Corps staff in the process of incorporation (fiscal sponsorship required)
- Social enterprises founded by RPCVs or former Peace Corps staff and incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations
- Groups of RPCVs and former Peace Corps that are formally affiliated with, or in the process of affiliation with, NPCA
- Community-based organizations or enterprises incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations and with substantial RPCV or former Peace Corps staff involvement (volunteers, staff, or board of directors)
- Private enterprises established as limited liability companies (LLC) by RPCVs or former Peace Corps staff and in early startup
Ineligible Applicants | If one or more of the criteria below is true, applicant is not eligible:
- Proposals for enterprises that have annual operating revenues of $500,000 or more
- Proposals presented or directed by government entities
- Proposals from groups that do not contribute financial or in-kind resources to the proposed activities
- Proposals associated with political parties or partisan movements
- Purely religious or sectarian activities
- Proposals solely for construction and/or equipment
- Requests for grants more than $50,000 total
- Social enterprises that are not incorporated or in the process of being incorporated
- Social enterprises that are not established by RPCVs or former Peace Corps staff, or do not have substantial involvement from RPCVs or former Peace Corps staff
NPCA looks for the following criteria in a project it funds:
- Innovative solutions to community problems
- Creative use of the community’s resources
- Evidence of commitment to social justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion
- Diverse, equitable, and transparent array of community voices in project development and execution
- Substantial stakeholder engagement in:
- the identification of the problem addressed
- the identification of intended beneficiaries
- the approach chosen to solve it
- the design of the project
- management and evaluation of activities
- Partnerships with local government, the business community and other civil society organizations
- Potential for strengthening all participating organizations and their partnerships
- Financial and technical feasibility, including detailed budget and capacity and history of managing grants
- Evidence of eventual sustainability
- Counterpart contributions from the proponent, the beneficiaries and other sources
- The potential to generate learning
- Measurable results (short- and long-term)
Application will be evaluated on the above criteria using a grant application scoring rubric that reviews and weighs grant proposal components, using a 50-point scale. All applications receiving 35+ points will be considered for funding support. Applications receiving 34 points and below will either be informed that they are not being selected for funding or will be asked to strengthen their application to meet specific criteria.
Up to $50,000 per recipient, of which a maximum of $10,000 will be awarded from NPCA resources, with the remainder from crowdfunded or jointly identified funding sources.
Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis through June 2021.
NPCA will utilize donor advised funds donated to NPCA for use in advancing the mission and reach of the Community Fund. NPCA will also capitalize on grant opportunities that emerge and which align with the mission and scope of the Community Fund’s Small Grants Program.
NPCA’s Community Fund Small Grants Program is overseen by NPCA’s President and CEO. NPCA’s Community Fund Advisory Committee, made up of appointed Board Members and volunteer NPCA members, will advise on procedures and policies for the initiatives of the Community Fund, as well as, approve grant applications requesting grants $3,000 and larger.
The daily management of applications, communications with stakeholders, crowdfunding process, grant payout, and grant reporting will be managed by NPCA's International Programs Coordinator.
The seeking out of supplemental funding opportunities, such as the submission of foundation grant proposals, will be led and managed by NPCA’s development team.
Images of the coronavirus have come from the laboratory of RPCV Elizabeth Fischer see more
Making SARS-CoV-2 tangible helps demystify the challenges we face with the COVID-19 pandemic
By Markian Hawryluk
From her laboratory in the far western reaches of Montana, Elizabeth Fischer is trying to help people see what they’re up against in COVID-19.
Over the past three decades, Fischer, 58, and her team at the Rocky Mountain Laboratories, part of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have captured and created some of the more dramatic images of the world’s most dangerous pathogens.
“I like to get images out there to try to convey that this is an entity, to try to demystify it, so this is something more tangible for people,” said Fischer, one of the country’s leading electron microscopists.
Now, as her renderings of the coronavirus flash across screens worldwide, she said: “You often hear people call it the invisible enemy. It’s trying to put that face out there.”
Working in one of the nation’s 13 “Biosafety Level 4” labs — those equipped to safely handle the most dangerous pathogens — Fischer and her team visualize the world’s deadliest plagues from Ebola to HIV, salmonella to SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Viral particles being released from a dying cell infected with coronavirus. The dozens of small, blue spheres emerging from the surface of a kidney cell are the virus particles themselves. The images produced by the electron microscopes are actually black-and-white; a visual artist colorizes them. Image courtesy of Elizabeth Fischer
The breathtaking images allow people to see a virus as elaborate biological structures with weaknesses that can be exploited, yielding clues for researchers about how to develop treatments and vaccines.
“If there is a disease, we have seen it,” she said.
“Making SARS-CoV-2 tangible helps to demystify the challenges that all of us now face as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” NIH Director Francis Collins wrote on his blog in noting the value of Fischer’s images. “The hope is it will encourage each and every one of us to do our part to fight it, whether that means digging into the research, working on the front lines, or staying at home to prevent transmission and flatten the curve.” Image courtesy Elizabeth Fischer
Originally from Evergreen, Colorado, Fischer completed a degree in biology at the University of Colorado-Boulder and contemplated going to medical school, before deciding instead to join the Peace Corps. She taught math and science for two years in Liberia, and then took time to travel through East Africa and Asia, including a trek into the Himalayas.
Returning to Colorado, she immersed herself in the outdoor world she loved. She worked as a rafting guide on the Arkansas River for several summers, and as a children’s ski instructor at the Monarch Mountain ski resort during the winters.
Macro and micro: Fischer’s work with microscopes reveals a hidden world. She has also worked as a rafting guide. Photo courtesy Elizabeth Fischer
She later enrolled in graduate school, thinking she might teach biology. But when she took courses in electron microscopy, she was hooked.
It appealed to her sense of exotic adventure. “You’re looking at a world that most people don’t get to see,” she said. She switched gears and completed a master’s degree in biology.
Upon graduation, she sent her résumé to a national microscopy job placement office and soon received a call from Rocky Mountain Laboratories. In 1994, she moved with her family to Hamilton, a city of fewer than 5,000 people about 50 miles south of Missoula, then worked her way up to become chief of the lab’s microscopy unit.
Some of the more stunning images of the coronavirus — about 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair — have come from Fischer’s microscope.
Some of the more stunning images of the coronavirus — about 10,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair — have come from Fischer’s microscope. One is Fischer’s photograph of viral particles being released from a dying cell infected with the virus.
As NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins highlighted in his blog earlier this year, the photo shows the orange-brown folds and protrusion on the surface of a primate’s kidney cell infected with SARS-CoV-2. The dozens of small, blue spheres emerging from the surface are the virus particles themselves. (The images produced by the electron microscopes are black-and-white, so Fischer hands them over to visual artists who colorize the image to help identify different parts of the cell and to distinguish the virus from its host.)
“This image gives us a window into how devastatingly effective SARS-CoV-2 appears to be at co-opting a host’s cellular machinery,” Collins wrote. “Just one infected cell is capable of releasing thousands of new virus particles that can, in turn, be transmitted to others.”
Scientists like Fischer have used electron microscopes to uncover the unseen world of viruses and bacteria dating to the 1930s. In the past two decades, however, new technologies have unleashed a resolution revolution, allowing researchers to see down to the near-atomic level. Microscopists have come up with better ways to prepare samples for viewing and have written sophisticated software programs to sharpen images.
In early February the lab received material from one of the first U.S. patients to be infected with the novel coronavirus. Image courtesy Elizabeth Fischer
Through her lab, Fischer receives samples from all over the world, and was sent viral material in early February from one of the first U.S. patients to be infected with the novel coronavirus. Often, her samples come from vials that have been stored in a freezer for decades, or from cultures routinely grown in a lab. “It’s very sobering when you know it came from a human patient.”
Significance of a sample: “It’s very sobering when you know it came from a human patient.” Image courtesy Elizabeth Fischer
For example, in 2014, a sister lab in Mali sent over an Ebola sample from a 2-year-old girl who had lived in Guinea when her mother died of the disease. Her grandmother traveled from Mali to attend the funeral, which involved touching and bathing the body, and to take the girl home with her. Both got infected and brought the virus back with them as they returned to Mali by public transportation. They both died.
In 2014, Elizabeth Fischer received a sample of Ebola from a 2-year-old girl in Mali. The cell border and nucleus shape resemble the shape of the continent of Africa. Image courtesy Elizabeth Fischer
“This one particular cell, it looked like the continent of Africa,” Fischer recalled. “It was a very powerful moment. You see that virus growing in there, it takes you back around to not only the lab work we do, but that there’s an impact on human health.”
Despite the deadly nature of the viruses, she still appreciates the “beautiful symmetry in many of them,” she said, adding: “They’re very elegant, and they’re not malicious in and of themselves. They’re just doing what they do.”
Communications Intern posted an articleCommunity news highlighting achievements of RPCVs. see more
Achievements of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Across the country — and around the world
By Peter Deekle (Iran 1968-1970)
RETURNED PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEERS (RPCV) MADISON
The Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Madison, Wisconsin, is the recipient of the Global Citizen Award from the United Nations Association of America, recognizing its annual production of an international events calendar, ongoing community programs (such as Freeze for Food walk), and a long history of service reflecting the United Nation’s mission, values, and goals.
Alexander Battaglia (2018–20) has received a Fulbright award for the 2020–21 academic year from the U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board. His Peace Corps Spanish literacy service was interrupted due to COVID-19. Due to the pandemic, his award to teach English in a Madrid high school is expected to begin in January 2021.
Courtney Finkbeiner (2017–19) is the Student Engagement Coordinator for SolarSPELL, a solar-powered backpack library that empowers learners globally by providing localized educational information and the training to build 21st-century skills in offline environments. She used the backpacks in her community in Fiji and is now working with about a dozen returned volunteers in Help from Home.
Samra Brouk (2009–11) led health equity initiatives as a Peace Corps Volunteer and is a nonprofit leader. She is also a 2020 candidate for the New York State Senate, 55th District.
Nora Wynne (1997–99), a Spanish teacher and instructional coach at California’s McKinleyville Middle School, has been named the 2020 Humboldt County Teacher of the Year.
Marty Feess (Jordan 2005–07, Albania 2013–15) has received his third award for his 2019 book, American Heroes. This book has won the Arizona Authors Association 2019 first place for non-fiction books; Story Monster 2019 Certificate of Excellence for educational reference works; and Skipping Stones Magazine 2020 Honor Award for multicultural children’s books.
REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA
Kim Dixon (2014–18) has accepted a temporary position with the National Peace Corps Association, leading its community development campaign and cultivating greater diversity and inclusion of RPCVs. Kim has over two decades of experience in sales, marketing, project management, and consulting capacities with IBM and other professional engagement.
Brendan Manning (2006–08) became Laguna Beach, California’s Emergency Operations Coordinator this July. He last served as a disaster management advisor with the U.S. Forest Service embedded with the National Disaster Risk Management Commission in Ethiopia.
Rajiv Joseph (1996–98) is the playwright of Letters of Suresh, which is anticipated to have its world premiere at New York Second Stage’s off-Broadway Tony Kiser Theater in the Spring of 2021.
Nick Roll (2018–20) served as a health extension agent until COVID-19 ended his Peace Corps service. He is currently a Case Investigator employed by the Cincinnati Partners in Health in coronavirus contact tracing.
Peter Reid (1964–66) has published Every Hill a Burial Place (September 2020, University of Kentucky Press), an account of the trial concerning the death of PCV Peggy Kinsey in 1966.
Quilen Blackwell (2007–09) leads the Chicago Eco House, an inner city sustainability social enterprise with the mission of reducing poverty. The Chicago Eco House has sites in three Chicago neighborhoods as they operate their flower farm and 3D printing social enterprises for at-risk youth.
Dario Borghesan (2002–04) has been appointed as a new justice to the Alaska Supreme Court, announced in July 2020. He previously worked as the chief assistant attorney general for the Alaska Department of Law in Anchorage and supervised the department’s civil appeals section. Borghesan graduated from Michigan Law School in 2008 and clerked in Fairbanks for Justice Daniel Winfree.
Kaitlyn Fontaine (2017–19) is heading up an effort to put books in the hands of Hollister, California’s youth to help bridge the gap created by distance learning and issues of limited access due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In just over a month, Fontaine has collected and distributed nearly 3,500 books to K–8 students.
Chloe Blaisdell (2019–20), following her pandemic-related evacuation from Zambia, is now the farm assistant at Matthew 25, a non-profit farm serving those in need in Central New York. Matthew 25 includes some multicultural farmers who cultivate assigned plots at the farm.
Please share your news with us! Email Peter Deekle.
Join us on Monday, June 15 for an hour-long conversation on climate change. see more
We are living in unprecedented times, facing crises of immense scale. Join us June 15 for an important conversation.
As a Peace Corps community, we saw all Volunteers evacuated from around the world in March.
We’re living amidst a global pandemic — with more than 100,000 Americans dead, tens of millions unemployed.
And we’ve seen — once again — the death of unarmed Black men and women at the hands of police, a brutal reminder of a legacy of racial injustice, that has led to protests in towns and cities across the nation and around the world.
Amid all of this, here at home and across the planet, we witness the escalating effects of climate change — hitting poor and marginalized communities particularly hard.
As members of the Peace Corps community, we embrace each of these crises with a sense of purpose, empathy, and understanding — putting skills and experience to work.
As part of our efforts to confront these crises, join us on Monday, June 15 for an hour-long conversation on climate change. Learn how RPCVs are working to address climate change within their communities as well as nationwide and around the world. Learn what our recent research shows about RPCV attitudes and goals in tackling this critical issue. Help us stake out top priorities and bring together RPCV advocates in a way that empowers us to work together as changemakers. When it comes to motivating others in your community to address climate change, your Peace Corps experience can make a difference.
In January 2020 National Peace Corps Association conducted a national survey asking you about the global issues that you care about most — and what actions you might take to address these issues in your community.
More than 3,000 members of the Peace Corps community responded. Nearly two thirds of you said climate change was by far the global issue you cared about most. You also showed strong support for global health, access to clean water, and women’s empowerment and girls education. See the results below.
NPCA conducted four focus groups in May 2020 among 37 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers as another step in its efforts to lay the groundwork for a community-based social action campaign for members of the Peace Corps community.
An ideas summit to ask some big questions about the Peace Corps community in a changed world. see more
We’re convening for an ideas summit to ask some big questions about the Peace Corps community in a changed world.
In the next few weeks, we’re also bringing together members of the Peace Corps community around issues of racial injustice and climate change — to help shape our agenda for the future.
In March 2020, Peace Corps Volunteers were evacuated globally because of a global pandemic still taking its toll. That created an unprecedented and enormous challenge on its own.
We want to help reignite the work of Peace Corps around the world. So how do we do that, and make sure that Peace Corps — and our community — is the best that it can be?
Join us to help answer these questions — and take action.
Amanda Silva posted an articleBecoming a mission partner is more than a financial contribution, it's a continuation of service. see more
By Maricarmen Smith-Martinez (Costa Rica 2006-2008)
As Peace Corps Volunteers, our desire to impact our communities and effect positive change drives us to invest our time, our skills, and our passion. Providing guidance as a community leader, as a mentor, and as a friend, I impacted my community in Costa Rica in many ways. Back at home, the investment continues as the community grows. You can “close the service” of a Volunteer, but you can never take away our passion to serve.
As a Mission Partner of the NPCA, I know that my contributions support our larger Peace Corps community and allow us to increase our impact both at home and abroad. As a Shriver Circle member, I contribute my financial support, providing NPCA with the flexibility to employ it where it’s needed most. As an advocate, I share my Volunteer experience, encouraging Congress to build a bigger, better Peace Corps.
As the Coordinator of the Affiliate Group Network (AGN) on the NPCA Board, I partner with staff to enable our affiliate groups to thrive. Working with AGN leaders at the grassroots level, we identified necessary resources and developed a platform to provide better methods for groups to engage and connect. Our nearly 160 affiliate groups are always looking for tools to engage their membership, expand their reach, and increase their impact. As a result, we launched the Purpose-driven Group webinar series, enabling groups to build their capacity through best-practices on topics such as legal considerations or how to host a Story Slam. The webinar series also provides the opportunity to learn about NPCA benefits like SilkStart, the Community Builder platform that offers comprehensive technology for website and membership database management.
As a proud member of the Peace Corps community, I make an impact by continuing to serve.
Make your impact. Become a Mission Partner of the NPCA.
National Peace Corps Association Operations posted an articleAs we reflect on an amazing 40th anniversary year, we are grateful for our community of supporters. see more
From our 15th annual National Days of Action and our interactive Peace Corps Connect Conference to our continuing and renewed partnerships, this year National Peace Corps Association mobilized the Peace Corps community like never before: we advocated for Peace Corps at all levels, advanced Third Goal efforts, and empowered our affiliate groups to thrive.
As we reflect on an amazing 40th anniversary year, we are grateful for our community of supporters that help us achieve our mission. This giving season, we exceeded our $10,000 Giving Tuesday goal to advance advocacy efforts to protect Peace Corps and received donations from thousands of individuals who contributed to support NPCA affiliate groups, our Community Fund, and our cause-related initiatives.
There is still time to make a year-end gift! Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to support NPCA’s work. We truly cannot do what we do without support from people like you!
Thank you in advance for your support.
President & CEO
National Peace Corps Association posted an articleNews from the Peace Corps Community - November 2018. see more
Community News – Achievements of RPCVs
Author: Peter Deekle
Peter Hessler (1996-1998) was one of the eight Missouri Honor Medal recipients in 2018 for his distinguished service in journalism. His life and work in China generated four acclaimed books on that country’s culture.
Scott Coppa (2015-2017) teamed up with friends in Indiana after his Peace Corps service and founded Puente – a nonprofit organization making it easier for volunteer groups to pick a target area to work in and know exactly what that community is lacking, allowing them to preplan their projects.
Malcolm Velasco (2013-2015), a second-year medical student at Mercer University, received a Benjamin H. Kean Travel Fellowship in Tropical Medicine to conduct research in The Gambia in West Africa in summer 2018. He was one of 21 fellows selected this year from medical schools across the country. The Kean Travel Fellowship in Tropical Medicine is awarded annually by the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH) to support medical students involved in clinical or research electives in tropical areas.
Matthew (Mateo) Peters (1999-2001), director of the Chesapeake Multicultural Resource Center, met on October 10 at the Talbot County Free Library to discuss historical migration trends. ChesMRC strives to break down cultural barriers that arise from differences in language, appearance or ethnic traditions. It has assisted more than 2,000 immigrants and families.
Cymone Wilson (2016-2018) is continuing her in-country service through shipments of books to Jamaican libraries. She now works for Elevate K-12, an education technology company with a mission to make online learning accessible to students, regardless of socioeconomic status. She wants to help recruit more Peace Corps volunteers, especially minorities.
Sometimes the legacy of Peace Corps service inspires action long after that service has ended. Such is the case in a Liberian community of Gbamga where, in October 2018, the Garden School opened, sponsored by the family of an RPCV who served in the 1960s. Stephanie Vickers (1971-1973) said the donors were motivated to sponsor the construction of a local school following a training the U.S.-based group called the Friends of Liberia conducted for Liberian educators in early childhood education.
Beverly Sweet (1978-1983), Wellsville (NY) High School teacher of American History and Government, has been selected by the NYS Organization of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution as the statewide winner of the Outstanding Teacher of American History Award. She received her award on September 22, 2018.
Roy Cole (1975-1979) Last September, Cole, a professor of Geography and Sustainable Planning at GVSU, and his wife, Mary, were finalists in Michigan for the Governor’s Energy Excellence Award. This award honors organizations and individuals statewide for their commitment to responsible energy production and consumption. The Coles were nominated for the “Best Residential Projects” category in acknowledgement of the extensive work they have taken to conserve energy at home.
Kevin Bubriski (1975-1978) is a documentary photographer who recently published a new book, Mustang: In Black and White, inspired by a new collaboration with Sienna Craig (a Dartmouth associate professor) on Nepalese photography, culture and history.
Cornell College (Iowa) presented its Leadership and Service Award to Ken Patterson (1992-1995) in recognition of his global efforts to address extreme poverty and disease. Ken is the director of grassroots advocacy at RESULTS (an international organization working to end poverty across the globe).
Lisa Curtis (2010-2011) is founder of Kuli Kuli Foods, an energy bar, shot, and nutrition powder company made from the local moringa plant. In late summer 2018 the company earned a federal grant from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a foreign aid agency that focuses on helping countries find homegrown economic ways to fight poverty, in part to battle terrorism.
Maggie Fleming (2002-2004) was recognized with the Dr. Kenneth K Bateman Outstanding Alumni Award by Pittsburg State University in October 2018 for her international service. Following her Peace Corps service, she became a senior disaster operations specialist with the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance within the U.S. Agency for International Development and later on took on the role of deputy director of emergency response. Her current primary focus is an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
JM Ascienzo posted an articleThe Hiring Freeze, March Days of Action and More see more
Hiring freezes and the Peace Corps
On Monday President Trump signed an executive order to enact an across-the-board hiring freeze of federal employees, except for military personnel or for positions that meet national security or public health needs. The Office of Management and Budget has since offered guidance on the directive, with more information still trickling out.
In a White House memorandum announcing the freeze, OMB and the Office of Personnel Management are charged with enacting a long-term strategy "to reduce the size of the Federal Government's workforce through attrition."
Peace Corps is working with OPM and OMB to get additional guidance as it relates to the agency.
"I'm confident that the health and safety of Peace Corps Volunteers is the agency's top priority, and am confident that they will not compromise that principle," NPCA President and CEO Glenn Blumhorst said.
Mobilize! March National Days of Action Update
Events are already being planned across the country for NPCA's National Days of Action in support of the Peace Corps from March 3 to 15. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and supporters of the Peace Corps will be meeting with lawmakers at district offices, holding service days, happy hours and potlucks, all to urge Congress' support of the Peace Corps and Peace Corps values.
Help us meet our goal of 50 events and 500 participants. Find events near you and information on how to organize one today!
Peace Corps Semipostal Stamp
Want to get more private funds to Peace Corps Volunteer- and community-led projects? Ask Congress to support the bipartisan Peace Corps Semipostal Stamp! Congresswoman Barbara Lee's (D-CA) bill already has support from 21 lawmakers, but it needs more. Take two minutes and email Congress.
“The Peace Corps is an American institution which has helped foster global peace and cross-cultural understanding for decades," Congresswoman Lee told NPCA. "The creation of a Peace Corps stamp would be a fitting tribute to this remarkable organization. I encourage my colleagues to cosponsor this bipartisan bill, which would further our shared goal of advancing peace, friendship and sustainable development around the world.”
Want change at the local and national levels? Congress needs to hear from you. Call (202) 224-3121, and you'll be connected with your representatives' offices. Or send an action email. Congress won't know about the issues the Peace Corps community cares about unless we tell them.
Megan Patrick posted an articleRemarkable Ways Affiliate Groups Create Impact see more
by Michelle Laws
Peace Corps Volunteers’ dedication to service doesn’t disappear when they return home. Rather, it becomes enhanced. By joining an NPCA affiliate group, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers address issues like hunger, homelessness, education, and much more in both their local communities and abroad. Here are just a few of the phenomenal activities by our groups this year:
Magnolia State Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
Though small in number, these RPCVs made a mighty impact in Mississippi with their first service project. Working with the Mississippi Food Network, they dedicated their time to gathering supplies for food banks around the state. After becoming an official NPCA affiliate group in 2016, they look forward to expanding their service and outreach projects in 2017.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Los Angeles
Every RPCV knows that the holidays can be bittersweet when far from loved ones. To make them a little cheerier for currently serving Volunteers, the group sends out care packages to those who request them. Filled with magazines, hard to find seasoning, and tasty snacks, PCVs around the world receive a little bit of “home away from home” with each package. December 10th, they sent out 42 packages and have 16 waiting to be filled: http://bit.ly/2ghVAFF
Columbia River Peace Corps Association
RPCVs in the Oregon and Washington area provide meals for those affected by homelessness. Every month, they work with the Oregon Food Bank to coordinate over 45 million pounds of food to reach those in need throughout the region. Volunteers repackage and sort donated items so that they can be delivered in an efficient and effective manner.
Cincinnati Area Returned Volunteers
Leading the wave of RPCVs interested in utilizing their unique talents to help incoming refugees, CARV members have been active for the past year assisting Catholic Charities in refugee resettlement. Over 30 members contributed directly to making new Americans welcome by teaching English, providing transportation to appointments, gardening, moving furniture, and helping to organize World Refugee Day festivities. CARV is also currently mentoring a Syrian family of six.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington D.C.
In November of this year, ten RPCV/W members gathered to reinforce trail corridors, repair trail structures, and remove invasive plant species on the Holly and Pine Trails in the city’s Rock Creek Park. Following this, another group of ten RPCV/W members distributed 75 plastic bags filled with assorted groceries to at-need residents of a senior living complex in Columbia Heights.
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida
This holiday season RPCVSF members are remembering those most in need — children. Through various gift drives, they gathered children’s books in Spanish, English, and French as well as a variety of toys. Group members then delivered all donations to youth in foster care with Educate Tomorrow.
These groups, as well as many others around the country, create positive impact and strengthen their communities through service. They prove that people-to-people conversations, assistance, and outreach bring people together. Those of us at NPCA are proud of the hard work and commitment by RPCVs to Peace Corps ideals after service. It is this dedication that makes our community as vibrant as it is. Thank you for all you do!