SOSA: The 2009 Winners

Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Overseas

Erin P. Sweeney – Lagos, Nigeria (AF)

2009SweeneyConsular Officer Erin P. Sweeney is an unstoppable humanitarian advocate in Lagos, one of the most difficult posts in the AF Bureau.

In March 2008, Erin helped establish the Consulate Community Service Program (CSP).  Recruiting both American and Nigerian staff at the Consulate, she built a leadership team that will keep CSP sustainable.

CSP’s volunteer endeavors directly impacted the Pacelli School for the Blind, the Ife Oluwa Maternity Clinic, and the Nigerian Anti-Trafficking in Persons Shelter.  CSP volunteers cleaned dorms and common rooms at the school, hosted a Thanksgiving celebration, and coordinated a Braille books and games drive to resupply the library.  Erin obtained a J. Kirby Simon grant of $3500 to fund completion of the surgical wing of the maternity clinic.  CSP volunteers made several trips to the shelter with donations of books, clothing, and food.

Teaming with other Harvard Kennedy School alumni living in Lagos, Erin coordinated a renovation program at the Lagos State Girls Correctional Center funded by a $2500 Kirby grant.

Erin has made a tangible difference in the lives of marginalized Nigerian women and children. She is a model of civic and social responsibility and an inspiration to her Consulate colleagues.

JanMarie Flattum-Riemers – Jakarta, Indonesia (EAP)

2009FlattumWhile providing tireless dedication and service to the Embassy community, RMO Dr. JanMarie Flattum-Riemers was determined to help the poorest and most disadvantaged in Indonesia.

JanMarie provided much-needed medical services at the Bakti Luhur Orphanage which is home to 250 orphaned and disabled children.   Creative solutions are a hallmark with the doctor as she established an Embassy recycling program which provided employment opportunities for the mentally disadvantaged adults of the orphanage.  Jan also developed an innovative program to help treat neglected children in scavenger communities.

Knowing she could not personally visit these communities, JanMarie obtained a J. Kirby Simon grant of $3500 to fund traveling occupational therapy kits for Indonesian caseworkers who service the scavenger communities.  She trained the caseworkers in patient assessment and occupational therapy techniques.  From photos documenting children’s disabilities, she designed patient care plans specific to the children’s needs.

The scope and reach of JanMarie’s volunteerism is amazing.  She conducted family planning seminars for poor Indonesian women and provided caretaker training at a local nursing home.  She taught hygiene to 100 scavenger families and coordinated with a local charity to provide medical assistance to another 300 families.

JanMarie has saved lives and changed lives, and has inspired the Embassy community to become activists in charitable work.

Lara L. Center – Luxembourg (EUR/IO)

2009CenterFamily member Lara L. Center utilized her M.A. in Museum Studies and demonstrated the highest volunteer commitment in her service with the National Military History Museum in Luxembourg.  The museum focuses on the Battle of the Ardennes and highlights the role the U.S. military played in liberating the country 65 years ago.

Over the past two years, Laura has developed innovative ways to focus on museum audiences and expand the outreach program to the younger generation.   Her volunteer activities contribute directly to the U. S. Mission strategic plan.  Lara created a mobile museum service that can travel to classrooms and share the museum’s history with the younger generation who might not otherwise visit.  She is a mentor to university interns, exposing them to the American community and providing a unique insight into Luxembourg-American cooperation.  Her innovative outreach strategy includes upgrading the museum webpage and creating a new component called the “Treasure Trove” which highlights new items in the museum collection.  She also serves as the museum’s liaison with the U. S. National World War II Museum in New Orleans on several collaborative projects.

Most recently, Lara invited American Forces Network TV to film a documentary about the museum.  Lara’s dedication to the museum honors the “Greatest Generation,” and continues the memory of their valiant service with the youth of today.

Joseph A. Taylor – Baghdad, Iraq (NEA)

Joseph “Jay” Taylor’s assignment at Embassy Baghdad is to manage the Fulbright Exchange Program.  However, his drive to help others does not stop when he leaves the office.

Life in Bagdad is extremely stressful with ever-present security threats and the monotony of living in close quarters surrounded by barbed wire, concrete walls, and guard towers.  For the past 14 months, Jay has devoted his off-hours to teach adult swimming classes to a diverse community within the Embassy.   His swim classes are the high point of the week for many.  These classes include combat military troops, translators, senior FS officers, as well as  women from Ethiopia, the Palestinian territories and Iraq, countries where physical activity for females is highly discouraged.

Swim class - SOSA 2009

Jay’s students include those with a life-long fear of swimming as well as those with disabilities.  The classes mix empowerment with sports. Over 60 swimmers from 18 countries have participated in Jay’s swimming program.  For some, the swimming lessons could mean survival.  For others, the lessons reduce stress, build confidence and create a sense of community amidst the challenges of living in a war zone.

Bernadetta J. Ruch – Dushanbe, Tajikistan (SCA)

2009RuchOne of five 35 per cent differential posts in the world, Dushanbe is an isolated post in an extremely poor county.  Despite this challenging environment, Marine Sergeant Bernadetta Ruch has made an indelible contribution to the morale of the Mission community.

Sgt. Ruch expanded Detachment fund-raising activities to include American and local staff along with expatriates living in Dushanbe.  She organized and cooked Thanksgiving dinner for over 100 people.  To celebrate Cinco de Mayo, she orchestrated a Mexican food night in a city where staples such as milk and chicken are hard to find. At her request, incoming military personnel hand-carried supplies including precious avocados.  Staff and community members were stunned at the quality and quantity of dishes served.

Spearheading the annual Marine “Toys for Tots” drive, Sgt. Ruch discovered that in previous years, orphanage directors often pocketed donated funds and sold toys.  To prevent a reoccurrence, she organized a holiday event at the Mission which brought 140 children to the Embassy grounds to enjoy games and activities as well as 150 meals donated from local businesses.  Sgt. Ruch organized all these activities despite serving in a Detachment consistently understaffed for her entire tour.

Jan Irene Miller – Panama City, Panama (WHA)

Family member Jan Irene Miller demonstrated exceptional leadership and innovation in support of the Panama Chamber of Commerce project to resolve metropolitan transportation issues.

The Panama Chamber president sought assistance from the Embassy to identify the best urban transportation solution for Panama City.  Trained as an executive coach with 20 years of managing global technology projects, Jan agreed to meet with the Chamber’s Transportation Commission.and quickly became a key member and advisor.  She coordinated the many ideas generated by public and private stakeholders and read hundreds of research reports, studies, and manuals from global expert sources.

Jan then built an effective website as a repository of the information and enabled Commission members to stay informed.  Not content with merely posting the information, Jan analyzed the data and gave it relevance in terms of assessing proposals and their impact on environmental protection, labor skills, world class technology, and infrastructure challenges.  Armed with this data and analysis, the Commission prepared a summary presentation to the Panama Presidential candidates and the Chamber’s Board of Directors.  Following the May elections, the Commission met with the incoming government who responded by establishing a cabinet level position to lead the multi-billion dollar, five year mass transit solution promulgated by the Commisson.

Tirelessly leveraging her skills as a team builder, Jan organized and analyzed data, developed ideas, and produced substantive changes that served both Panamanian and American interests.

For more information about the SOSA award, click here or email