2019 AAFSW Awards Ceremony

2019 AAFSW Awards – Including the SOSA Ceremony
Wednesday, November 20, 2019
Department of State


On Wednesday, November 20, 2019, AAFSW held its 29th annual AAFSW Awards Ceremony, including the SOSA program, which was presented by AAFSW President, Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, in the Benjamin Franklin Reception Room in the Department of State. The ceremony highlighted the exceptional volunteer work of ten remarkable individuals.

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide are grateful to have the continued financial 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 five different geographical bureaus. DACOR recognized the winner of the 2019 Tragen Award, AAFSW and the Champions of Career Enhancement for EFMs Employment Committee recognized the recipients (this year it was a group award) of the 2019 CCE–EFM Award, and AAFSW recognized the winner of the 2019 Lesley Dorman Award. In addition to all these, this year AAFSW recognized a special winner for the AAFSW Lifetime Achievement Award.

This was an exceptional year for our winners! Secretary of State Mike Pompeo honored AAFSW and the 2019 winners with a private meet and greet which took place the day before the ceremony. Indeed, in the morning of Tuesday, November 19, 2019, Secretary of State Pompeo met with the winners and discussed their interests which led them to initiate and complete their SOSA winning projects. The Associates of the American Foreign Service and AAFSW President Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen are deeply grateful for this special honor afforded to all of us by Secretary Pompeo.

AAFSW and the AAFSW President were also very happy to welcome the AAFSW Honorary President Susan Pompeo, who was the keynote speaker at the 2019 AAFSW Awards Ceremony and honored the awardees with her presence at the ceremony. AAFSW Honorary President Susan Pompeo addressed the 2019 winners and AAFSW guests and members with a heart-warming speech on the importance of volunteerism to the communities in which people live permanently or temporarily. Mrs. Pompeo emphasized the role of volunteerism for her and her family. AAFSW really appreciated Mrs. Pompeo’s remarks as she mentioned her efforts as a volunteer and the significance of the amazing volunteer contributions of the American diplomatic community abroad. With Mrs. Pompeo’s help presenting, the SOSA winners received a certificate of gratitude for their inspiring contributions signed by Secretary of State Pompeo and AAFSW President, Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen. In addition, thanks to our generous donors, each one of the SOSA winners received a cash award of twenty-five hundred dollars as well as a pin that reads “Outstanding Volunteer,” which commemorates the annual AAFSW Ceremony.

The winners were chosen by their projects’ sustainability, scope and reach, change and impact, ingenuity, and leadership. This year’s SOSA winners were presented by Patricia Linderman (AAFSW President Emerita), as the AAFSW SOSA Chair Lara Center could not attend the ceremony. The SOSA recipients are: 1) Marcus Lamb (AFRICAN Bureau), 2) Jennifer Yan (EAST ASIA and PACIFIC Bureau), 3) Carlos Perez (EUROPE and EURASIA Bureau), 4) Zhou Cecilia Zhuang-Haas (NEAR EASTER Affairs) and 5) Claudia Felice-Kuebler (WESTERN HEMISPHERE and the AMERICAS Bureau).

Following the presentation of the 2019 Secretary of State Awards, AAFSW was honored to welcome Deputy Assistant Secretary of Human Resources Mirembe Nantongo to help AAFSW hand out the rest of the 2019 Awards. DAS Nantongo and DACOR President Paul Denig presented the Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award. This recognition, which comes with a two thousand dollars ($2,000) cash award, is funded by an annual gift by Mr. Tragen, who was also present at the Ceremony, 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.

AAFSW is extremely proud that this year’s award recipient is Melissa Brayer-Hess, currently AAFSW’s Vice President I. Melissa was selected for this award for spearheading three long-term initiatives: the AAFSW website, the start-up of the Livelines e-mail group, and the Realities of Foreign Service Lifebook series. Over 15 years after their creation these initiatives continue to positively impact Foreign Service family members and employees every single day. A Foreign Service spouse for 22 years, Melissa accompanied her husband on assignments to Nigeria, Russia, Algeria, Egypt, and Ukraine. In 1998, she created Foreign Service Lifelines, the first website for Foreign Service spouses. The website hosted Livelines, the first “meeting place in cyberspace” for Foreign Service families worldwide. As the site continued to grow, it was eventually taken over by AAFSW in 1999 and became the organization’s official website.

Melissa is also co-author of the book, The Expert Expatriate: Your Guide to Successful Relocation Abroad. The book was written with Patricia Linderman. The two co-authors met on-line and wrote the book by corresponding on-line while living in two different countries. Melissa also developed the idea of creating a book providing a look at Foreign Service life as seen from the inside, written by those who have experienced it. This resulted in Melissa and Patricia co-editing two other books, Realities of Foreign Service Life, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2. Plans for a third volume are now underway. Melissa holds a Master’s degree in Education and has taught English in colleges, universities, and language schools in Europe, Africa, and the United States.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Human Resources Mirembe Nantongo, along with AAFSW President Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, presented the 2019 CCE-EFM Award to a group of three amazing individuals. This recognition comes with a seven hundred-and-fifty dollar cash award provided by AAFSW, and it honors an individual or group who has been proactive in advancing Eligible Family Member employment. Expanded Professional Associate (EPAP) Dan Kehoe, Eligible Family Member (EFM) Coordinator Shannon Bland, and Global Employment Advisor (GEA) Daniel Alvarez at U.S. Embassy Mexico City have gone above and beyond their job descriptions and routine daily activities to promote the cause of employment and career development for Foreign Service family members in Mission Mexico. Wholeheartedly dedicated to advancing the professional development of our EFMs, Dan, Shannon, and Daniel have created a multi-faceted EFM employment program that streamlines an inherently cumbersome recruitment process, educates EFMs on hiring preferences and authorities, and promotes professional growth and work options at post.

Dan, Shannon, and Daniel worked hand-in-hand to educate our many community members on varying hiring preferences and authorities. Additionally, they devoted considerable time and effort to develop SOPs and present on this information—for example, the non-competitive eligibility (NCE) that EFMs are entitled to upon return to Washington, DC.

The three also worked closely with our HR LES team to better understand, provide guidance, and identify resources to advise EFMs desiring to work on the local economy. They diligently tracked, updated and consulted on the continually changing process, allowing EFMs to pursue rich and diverse opportunities outside of the Embassy, whether at local schools or by teleworking at their residence.

Streamlined procedures, innovative and expanded trainings, and comprehensive guidance on new or changing policies and regulations has benefitted more than 200 EFMs throughout the Mission, as well as the R/HRO at Consulate Ciudad Juarez and the management officers and CLOs at nine consulates. The three conducted 13 presentations to 60+ EFMs and individually consulted with more than 90 EFMs in the last year. In the ICASS survey, one comment summarizes the results of the dedication of the EFM employment team: “The EFM Coordinator Team provides excellent service to the Embassy community regarding EFM employment opportunities. Thank you!” It is for their innovative and remarkable efforts to adopt best practices and innovations to greatly expand and elevate individual job opportunities for and long-term career enhancement of Foreign Service family members of U.S. Embassy Mexico City that Dan, Shannon and Daniel were nominated for the Champions of Career Enhancement for EFMs Award.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Human Resources Mirembe Nantongo, AAFSW State Liaison Dr. Mette Beecroft, and AAFSW President Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen presented the 2019 Lesley Dorman Award to Sherry Barndollar Rock, the former AAFSW Scholarship Chair. 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. Sherry Barndollar Rock served alongside her husband, Bud, in a Foreign Service career that spanned nearly 30 years. Both at home and abroad, Sherry’s commitment to volunteering has been among her highest priorities. Through her efforts, the Foreign Service community has benefited enormously, as have the local communities in which she and her family have lived.

During their very first posting in Israel, Sherry volunteered her management and fundraising expertise to the community, aiding schools for handicapped youth and developing sports programs for children of diverse cultural backgrounds. Support to future generations through scholarship has been a key theme in Sherry’s community service. She led the education and scholarship programs at DACOR, later serving as DACOR’s Executive Director. Scholarship continues to be central to the DACOR mission, a legacy of Sherry’s continuous support of the Foreign Service community. It was logical, and indeed fortunate, therefore, that Sherry would then take the lead in managing the AAFSW scholarship program. The program is a strong and key feature of the AAFSW mission and accomplishments. Sherry has provided these same skills and commitment to her community in Virginia, as President of the Arlington Rotary Educational Foundation, where scholarship is among the most important areas of contribution. Sherry’s family accepted her award on her behalf.

Last but certainly not least, during the 2019 AAFSW Awards Ceremony on Wednesday, November 20, 2019, together with DAS Nantongo, AAFSW President Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen presented the AAFSW Lifetime Achievement Award to Sheila Switzer. Sheila Switzer received this well-deserved award for her leadership, service, and time. AAFSW honors Sheila’s dedication and support of AAFSW and appreciates all that she does for the American diplomatic community and AAFSW as an outstanding volunteer for so many years. Sheila has been an exceptional volunteer bringing people from many different cultures together, organizing over 250 cultural events unifying the diplomatic international and local communities, chairing and welcoming to Washington the Foreign Born Spouses group, chairing the family crisis support fund and helping spouses in sudden transition stand on their feet and find housing and employment, as well as volunteering countless hours in the AAFSW book room and the yearly Art and Book Fair to help raise funds for AAFSW’s annual scholarships and other worthy causes. For many years, she has also taught Etiquette and Protocol courses at FSI as well. If there is a need, Sheila is always there to help. The Lifetime Achievement Trophy reads:
“The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide present the Lifetime Achievement Award to Sheila Switzer, recipient of Secretary of State, Tragen, Avis Bohlen, and Dorman Awards, for her remarkable contributions and volunteer service as AAFSW Program Chair, AAFSW Foreign Born Spouses Chair, and AAFSW Family Crisis Chair. Wednesday, November 20, 2019.”

The Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide would like to congratulate all the 2019 winners, and thank Secretary Pompeo, AAFSW Honorary President Susan Pompeo as well as all our distinguished guests who were present at the 2019 AAFSW Awards Ceremony, especially Deputy Assistant Secretary of Human Resources Mirembe Nantongo. AAFSW would also like to thank our generous donors, the Regional Bureaus, the Family Liaison Office, the DOS Media Services and the A/OPR/GSM for all their operational / photography / video support, DACOR, the SOSA Selection Committee, the AAFSW Board, the AAFSW members and volunteers, and the AAFSW Foreign Born Spouses Group 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 Dr. Mette Beecroft, our AAFSW SOSA Chair Lara Center, our AAFSW President Emerita Patricia Linderman for stepping in to help at the last minute, our AAFSW Program Chair Sheila Switzer, and our AAFSW Office Manager Barbara Reioux for their boundless support and relentless determination to perfection.

Joanna Athanasopoulos Owen, PhD
AAFSW President

All photos courtesy of the Secretary’s staff, the Secretary’s official photographer, James Pan (A/OPR/GSM photographer), FLO photographer Jacob Miller, and AAFSW members.