2020 Award Winners Honored in Historic Virtual/Hybrid Ceremony

It’s a longstanding AAFSW tradition for members and guests to gather in November in the State Department’s elegant Benjamin Franklin Room to honor the winners of the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad (SOSA), the Eleanor Dodson Tragen Award (presented by DACOR), the Champions of Career Enhancement for EFMs (CCE-EFM) Award and the Lesley Dorman Award.

In 2020, AAFSW President Lara Center and SOSA Chair Patricia Linderman knew this would be impossible due to COVID-19, so they reached out to John Bradshaw, Executive Director of DACOR, to discuss alternatives. He immediately and enthusiastically suggested hosting a small gathering at DACOR-Bacon House and broadcasting from there, with the other participants joining virtually via GoToWebinar. As John noted, having some in-person participants at DACOR Bacon House Foundation’s historic residence, built in 1825, would give the feel of a “real” ceremony while also raising the profile of both DACOR and AAFSW. Communications Director Christine Skodon unhesitatingly offered her professional technical expertise. 

And so it was: thanks to the hard work of all involved and several practice sessions, the ceremony on Friday, Nov. 20 went extremely well. With help from the Family Liaison Office, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo provided recorded remarks, and Director General Carol Perez joined live onscreen with words of congratulations. Other prominent participants in the virtual audience included Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Kenneth Merten, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Dean Thompson, Deputy Assistant Secretary Katie Stana, Director of National Museum of American Diplomacy Mary Kane, Ambassador William Harrop of the Delavan Foundation and others. 

In person at DACOR-Bacon House were SOSA winners Jane Thompson, Moises Mendoza, and Brendan Melchiorri and their guests, as well as Tragen Award winner and former AAFSW President Dr. Joanna Athanasopoulos and her husband. DACOR President Paul Denig presented the Tragen Award, and the creator and donor of the award, Irving Tragen, joined us onscreen from California.

The awardees joining the ceremony virtually were SOSA winners Mikell Reed Carroll (now in Belgrade),  Michelle Collett (now in Mexico City), Kimberly Arsenault and Megan Johnson; CCE-EFM Award winner Janet Heg (joining from Djibouti) and Lesley Dorman Award winner Katarina Hamilton. Virtual presenters included Bob Castro (in Cyprus), Mette Beecroft and Sheila Switzer. 

The grand finale of the virtual program was a special musical presentation by Debbi Miller, who sang the inspiring song “For Good“ from the musical Wicked, accompanied by a slideshow of photos contributed by the award winners, showing everything from the sea turtles rescued by Michelle Collett in Gabon to the “Consular Cup” competition organized by Brendan Melchiorri in Islamabad.

If you were unable to attend on Nov. 20, the edited recording will be posted soon on AAFSW’s website. 

In lieu of AAFSW’s traditional lunch with the award winners, a panel discussion was organized on Zoom and took place on Nov. 18. Nine of the winners spoke movingly about the inspiration for their work and shared fascinating stories (example). That event was also recorded and can be viewed here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_PLDs-28lQ

Thanks to Lara Center’s negotiations with the regional bureaus, the 2020 winners will receive transportation to the 2021 Awards Ceremony, which is tentatively planned to take place in the Benjamin Franklin Room on Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. Mark your calendars for this very special event which will honor both the 2020 and the 2021 winners!

We also need everyone’s help to identify and nominate outstanding volunteers in the Foreign Service community. If you know of someone who is doing exceptional volunteer work abroad, who has gone above and beyond for EFM employment, who has been a tireless advocate for Foreign Service family members, or who has served AAFSW exceptionally, please reach out to SOSA Chair Patricia Linderman at sosa@aafsw.org to find out how to submit a nomination. Look for the ALDAC cable in late January asking for nominations, and please share it with others in the FS community!