AAFSW at a Glance

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) was established in 1960 and is the oldest non­-governmental organization supporting the American diplomatic community.


SOSA 2017
Our Programs
Our Awards
AAFSW's Advocacy History
Our Scholarships
Our Ambassador Speaker Series
Realities of Foreign Service Life
Our BookRoom
Our Art & BookFair
Honoring Our Community
AAFSW Volunteers
Our Fundraising & Family Crisis Fund



 The 2017 SOSA Awards Ceremony at the U.S. Department of State


Winners pose with DAS Constance Dierman and AAFSW President Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen.  From left: Anna Dworken (2017 Lesley Dorman Awardee), Craig Houston (2017 SOSA winner: EAP Bureau), Grace Anne Turner (2017 SOSA winner: AF Bureau), AAFSW President Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Human Resources Constance Dierman, Alesia Krupenikava (2017 SOSA winner: EUR Bureau), Kelly Bembry Midura (2017 Tragen Award winner), Maritza Wilson (2017 SOSA winner: WHA Bureau), Judy Ikels (2017 CCE-EFM Award winner). Photos by Mark Stewart, Photographer, U.S. Dept. of State.


On Tuesday, November 7, 2017, AAFSW held its 27th annual AAFSW SOSA program, which was presented by Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, AAFSW President, at the Benjamin Franklin Reception Room in the Department of State. The Ceremony highlighted the exceptional volunteer work of nine remarkable individuals and can be viewed at: .

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide are grateful to have the continued support of former Secretary of State James Baker and his wife Mrs. Susan Baker, who helped establish this award in 1990 to recognize the goodwill of Americans for exceptional community service abroad, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of State George Shultz, the Ambassador Steven J. Green School of International and Public Affairs at Florida International University and the Green Family Foundation, as well as the support of the Center Family Foundation and countless AAFSW members.

This year, AAFSW recognized five winners for the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA) from the respective geographical bureaus. DACOR recognized the winner of the 2017 Tragen Award, AAFSW and the Champions of Career Enhancement for EFMs Employment Committee recognized the recipient of the 2017 CCE–EFM Award, and AAFSW recognized the winner of the 2017 Lesley Dorman Award. Further, AAFSW recognized one of its longtime members for the AAFSW Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide and AAFSW President were grateful to welcome Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Human Resources Constance Dierman, who spoke at the ceremony and honored the awardees. Deputy Assistant Secretary Dierman oversees issues relating to family members, overseas employment, shared services, retirement, and grievances.

The SOSA winners received a certificate of gratitude for their inspiring contributions signed by the Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, and AAFSW President, Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen. Further, thanks to our generous donors, each one of the SOSA Awardees received a cash award of twenty five hundred dollars as well as a pin that reads “Outstanding Volunteer”, which commemorates the annual AAFSW Ceremony.

This year’s SOSA winners were presented by Yolanda Macias-Cottrell, AAFSW SOSA Chair and they include: 1) Grace Anne Turner, from Post: Dakar, Senegal (AFRICAN Bureau) who improved patient intake and treatment of dehydration at the House of Hope primary care clinic, 2) Craig Houston, from Post: Chiang Mai, Thailand (EAST ASIA and PACIFIC Bureau) who created a multi-faceted website (http:// to promote awareness of severe air quality issues during northern Thailand’s annual agricultural burning seasons, 3) Alesia Krupenikava, from Post: Kyiv, Ukraine (EUROPE and EURASIA Bureau) who recruited more than 150 girls from all over Ukraine to participate in the Technovation Challenge program in Ukraine, 4) Lisa Hess, from Post: Colombo, Sri Lanka (SOUTH and CENTRAL ASIA Bureau) who created the U.S. Embassy Colombo community outreach team that provides great benefits to Sri Lanka while also providing the U.S. mission community an opportunity for service, 5) Maritza Wilson, from Post: Managua, Nicaragua (WESTERN HEMISPHERE and the AMERICAS Bureau) who, as a native medical practitioner, participated in home visits and home surveys of Fundación Amos to better understand the needs of the barrio and train members of the community in basic home health care ensuring the sustainability of her efforts.


Jewell Fenzi is the AAFSW Lifetime Achievement Award winner.  Jewell poses with DAS Connie Dierman, AAFSW President Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, AAFSW Program Chair Sheila Switzer, and her Family.  Mr. Irving Tragen receives the DACOR Certificate of Appreciation for Outstanding Leadership.  Photos courtesy of AAFSW.


Following the presentation of the 2017 Secretary Of State Awards, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Human Resources Constance Dierman and DACOR President Jim Benson, along with Irving Tragen, presented the Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award. This recognition, which comes with a two thousand dollar cash award, is funded by an annual gift by Mr. Tragen in memory of his late wife and is administered by DACOR to recognize a member of the Foreign Service Community who has effectively advocated for and enhanced the global rights and benefits of the Foreign Service Family. This year’s award recipient, Kelly Bembry Midura, has advocated for Foreign Service family members for nearly three decades. Kelly is also a prolific writer, publishing articles on Foreign Service topics in AAFSW’s Global Link, and AFSA’s Foreign Service Journal, and editing the first in AAFSW’s Foreign Service Companion book series, “Moving Your Household Without Losing Your Mind.” Kelly’s long-running personal blog, Well, That Was Different, addresses Foreign Service and expatriate topics and enjoys a substantial following in the community.

DAS Dierman along with AAFSW President Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen and AAFSW EFM Employment Committee representative Bob Castro presented the 2017 CCE-EFM Award to Judy Ikels. This recognition comes with a seven hundred and fifty dollar cash award provided by AAFSW, and it honors an individual who has been proactive in advancing Eligible Family Member Employment. Judy Ikels joined the Office of Employee Relations (ER) in November of 2004 and became Division Chief in 2009. She supervises a team of 13 professionals, developing policy and managing programs covering a wide range including telework and workplace flexibility, leave and travel, Workers’ Compensation, and Student Loan Repayment, among other policy and program areas. Her 27 years of service to the Department include two years as Community Liaison Office Coordinator in Rio de Janeiro, four years as a trainer at the Foreign Service Institute, nine years with the Family Liaison Office, three as Employment Program Coordinator, and six years as FLO’s Deputy Director. She was part of the FLO team that developed the Family Member Appointment, piloted the Global Employment Initiative, lobbied for the “PIT Buy-Back,” and piloted the first Overseas Employment Planning Workshop.

DAS Constance Dierman, AAFSW State Liaison Dr. Mette Beecroft, and AAFSW President Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen presented the 2017 Lesley Dorman Award to Anna Dworken. Lesley Dorman, who was a former AAFSW President, passed away on August 19, 2016. This award recognizes an AAFSW member who has performed outstanding service in all aspects of the organization and comes together with a silver plated engraved platter. Anna Dworken joined AAFSW in 1981 and was active in setting up the Foreign-Born Spouses Network in 1982 and 1983, before going overseas for most of the next 20 years. Between postings she helped with the Book Fair and in 1999-2000 she was on the Board of the Foreign Service Youth Foundation. She joined the AAFSW Board in 2008 as Assistant Treasurer and she is still on the AAFSW Finance Committee. She became active with the Book Room and the Book Fair in 2008 too, and soon after she became interested in clearing a huge backlog of old and rare books. She currently enjoys managing Collector’s Corner in the AAFSW Bookstore and for the annual AAFSW Art and Book Fair.

Last but certainly not least, on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, AAFSW recognized Jewell Fenzi, a longtime AAFSW member and honored her with the AAFSW Lifetime Achievement Award. This award is very timely as the Volunteers of the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide and the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training are about to launch a joint effort to record the history of the American Foreign Service Spouses. Jewell Fenzi has been a pioneer of this effort by recording the stories of over 170 American Diplomatic Spouses and initiating the Foreign Service Spouse Oral History Project in 1986. Most of these stories are now in the Library of Congress and a summary of these appears in Jewell Fenzi’s book: “Married to the Foreign Service”, which was published in 1994. For the presentation of this special award, AAFSW President Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen< requested the help of AAFSW Program Chair and Foreign Born Spouse State Liaison Sheila Switzer who is one of the spouses interviewed for this Project and whose interview is in the Library of Congress. The AAFSW Lifetime Achievement Award presented to Ms. Jewell Fenzi included the picture of the cover of Jewell’s book and it read: “The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide present the AAFSW Lifetime Achievement Award to Jewell Fenzi for being a pioneer in recording the Oral History of the American Diplomatic Spouse. Tuesday, November 7, 2017.”

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide would like to thank all our distinguished guests who were present at the 2017 AAFSW Awards Ceremony, especially Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of Human Resources Constance Dierman. AAFSW would also like to thank our generous donors, the Regional Bureaus, FLO Director Susan Frost and the Family Liaison Office, DACOR, the SOSA Committee, the AAFSW Board, the AAFSW members and volunteers, and the AAFSW Foreign Born Spouses’ members for their continued support of our annual AAFSW Awards’ Program.

As the AAFSW President, I would personally like to thank our AAFSW State Liaison Mette Beecroft, our AAFSW Program Chair Sheila Switzer, our AAFSW SOSA Chair Yolanda Macias-Cottrell, and our AAFSW Office Manager Barbara Reioux for their boundless support and relentless determination to perfection.

Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, PhD, AAFSW President


Foreign Service awards go to volunteers who ‘dream big, hope big, and inspire others’

By Meredith Somers, Federal News Radio. Originally published at, this article has been reprinted here with permission.

Craig Houston wanted to protect his newborn son. Grace Turner wanted to make sure she didn’t lose her nurse practitioner skills. Maritza Wilson just wanted to help.

While their motivations might stem from different sources, the benefit each of those people had on their communities was similarly powerful, and the reason why they are some of the 2017 winners of the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA).

“Volunteer work is not a part of all cultures, and host countries’ nationals are often fascinated by the creativity and dedication of our community members who willingly contribute their time and energy,” said Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Human Resources Constance Dierman. “Volunteer work constitutes a very effective form of personal and unofficial public diplomacy.”

Speaking earlier this month at the State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide President Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, Ph.D, said the awards recognize “the most compelling volunteer efforts” made by Foreign Service employees and their family members.

More than 116 awards have been given out in the 27 years since the creation of the honor.

This year, 17 people were nominated, said Yolanda Macias-Cottrell, AAFSW SOSA chairwoman.

“The selection process was a difficult one because all of the nominees were impressive,” Macias-Cottrell said. “A key factor in selecting a winner is sustainability, and we believe the projects of this year’s awardees will continue over the long term reaching many local citizens and their communities.”

Sustainability is very important, but also hard to achieve in such a transient community, Athanasopoulos Owen explained. People start projects and then when their tour ends, they pack up, leave, and the project is dropped.

“What we’re trying to build now — and we have made a point out of it — is that we can connect people so that the next families that arrive can pick up on the same project and continue,” Athanasopoulos Owen said. “We think it’s very important to sustain it. Dream big, hope big, and inspire others to follow your steps, and manage to do some good volunteer work to advertise this essence of volunteerism that the American people have, which is rare compared to the rest of the countries.”

This year’s SOSA award winners are:

Grace Turner, Dakar, Senegal (Bureau of African Affairs) — Turner joined the staff at House of Hope, a primary care clinic, helping with continuing education for the clinic’s nurses, and created a triage and treatment program for low-resource settings.

Craig Houston, Chiang Mai, Thailand (Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs) — Houston created a website to promote air quality during the country’s burning season.

Alesia Krupenikava, Kyiv, Ukraine (Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs) — Krupenikava helped recruit more than 150 girls to participate in the Technovation Challenge, a technology competition that encourages entrepreneurship for young women.

Lisa Hess, Colombo, Sri Lanka (Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs) — Hess partnered with the U.S. Navy and Sri Lankan sailors to promote dental hygiene for children. She also led community outreach including repairs to a local animal shelter and painting rooms at a school for the deaf and blind.

Maritza Wilson, Managua, Nicaragua (Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs) — Wilson volunteered at a clinic where she helped with home and rural area visits. Wilson also led training on reproductive health for high school students.

Wilson was born and raised in Nicaragua, and has her medical license in the country. So when she ended up stationed with her husband in her home country, she knew it would be easy to find work and help people.

“I know the culture, I know the people and the language,” Wilson said. “There is always a need in every country we go to. I showed them I want to do this because I see the need and I want to help.”

It was a bit tougher to help in the case of Houston. The Scotsman said it was a bit tricky trying to get and share information from the Thai government about air quality during the burning season.

“There was some resistance to sharing data that people might not want to hear,” Houston said. “Obviously, tourism is big in Thailand. Our approach is really to just share the information as widely as possible and use that as a vehicle to broaden the conversation.”

The burning season starts in February and runs through May, Houston explained. Right now, he and his team are building out a network of air pollution sensors, with the hope of sharing their data on the website.

“This year the website will also be in Thai, so that will broaden the audience to the people that really matter there,” Houston said. “And also a number of schools have reached out to us and have been very supportive about mostly protecting their kids in school.”

When Turner got to her post in Senagal, she joined a charity clinic and found eager students in her own colleagues.

Turner helped spearhead a new pediatric program focused on children younger than five, and also led efforts to build up a triage and treatment program for patients in low-resources settings.

“There is no instrumentation, we don’t use a thermometer, we don’t use a stethoscope, we don’t use a blood pressure cuff, and I am working to create an evidence-based toolkit that we can then export to other clinics both in Senagal and outside Senagal,” Turner said. “The pediatric providers training and then this triage and treatment program are the two things that I’m most excited about simply because of their impact and sustainability.”

Three other awards were also given out during the ceremony. They were:

The 2017 Tragen Award — Kelly Bembry Midura — Midura organized an online community where family members of Foreign Service workers could network and share information about local resources and activities. That effort expanded into a blog and “instruction manual” for family members when they move to a new post.

The Champions of Career Enhancement for Eligible Family Members (CCE-EFM) —Judy Ikels — Ikels has served the State Department for 27 years. Her work includes division chief of the Office of Employee Relations, Community Liaison Office coordinator in Rio De Janeiro, and she was deputy director with the Family Liaison Office.

The 2017 Dorman Award — Anna Dworken — Dworken is active in the State Department’s BookRoom and BookFair, which raises money for scholarships for Foreign Service family members. She joined the AAFSW board in 2008 and continues to serve on its finance Committee.
Dworken said she enjoys combing through the department’s collection of literature; she recently sold a signed Nelson Mandela book.

“I became involved first because I was assistant treasurer [for AAFSW], doing financial things, and the BookRoom manager retired,” Dworken said. “Somebody had to tackle doing the work and somehow I just fell into it and learned a lot. It turned out there was a room down in the depths of the State Department with 70, 80 boxes of books that were all once meant to go to auction and never did. That was my inspiration to begin working intensely on the old books.”

Midura said she was inspired to start an online network for Foreign Service members and their families after being stationed at several “hardship posts” in Latin America and Africa.

“There was very minimal infrastructure, no playgrounds, power outages for several hours every day, and I had small children,” Midura said.

She started collecting information about preschools and playgroups, and when she moved with her husband and family to Europe, she moved all of that information online. The problem, however, was that family members didn’t have direct access to the State Department’s intranet, where it would make the most sense to be able to connect to fellow Foreign Service families.

Instead, Midura used the internet to post resources for family members, and she expanded her role as a webmaster for AAFSW and helped with the organization’s online presence in the 1990s and 2000s.

Midura’s husband retired his fall, and the couple are still planning out their retirement. One thing for certain, however, is that Midura is turning over the reins to her projects.

“When we first joined the Foreign Service, I was one of the younger people and I got frustrated when older people were telling me how things should be done,” Midura said. “I feel like now it’s time for me to step out of the way and let other people roll with it. I’m very much looking forward to seeing in the next 10 years what happens with Foreign Service family members, because they are miles ahead of the State Department and capable of doing anything that they set their minds to.”



Learn More About AAFSW

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW) was established in 1960 and is the oldest non­-governmental organization supporting the American diplomatic community. AAFSW is a primary advocate and support network for family members of Foreign Service employees. AAFSW advocacy was responsible for the creation of the Family Liaison OfficeOverseas Briefing Center, and the Foreign Service Youth Foundation. More about us.


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