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  • When I was a young Peace Corps Volunteer in Capinzal, Santa Catarina, Brazil, I lived with Guilherme and Miriam Doin, along with their four children, Zezo, Jota, Tânia, and Jane.  I was 21, young and idealistic.  I was committed to do my job in rural community development in this small community of about 1,000 people.

    Joe with Tânia, Jane, Zezo and Jota Doin - 1965

     I did not pay much attention to living in the small town, although I did play with the local soccer team, and eventually helped start a local basketball team.  Many afternoons after a day in the nearby rural communities I would return to play backyard soccer with the boys and their dad, who was somewhat of a local star on the town’s number one team.

    For my Peace Corps project I was very fortunate to be part of the 4-H Club Foundation’s partnership with the Peace Corps and ACARESC, the local Brazilian government department offering services to the farmers and rural areas of Santa Catarina, a state in southern Brazil.  Working with local leaders and our Brazilian counterparts, my Peace Corps partner, Bonnie Reeser, and I helped develop active and vibrant 4-S clubs in the surrounding areas of Capinzal and Ouro, Santa Catarina.  The 4-S Clubs in Brazil are counterparts to 4-H Clubs in the US.  It was encouraging to witness so many able and dedicated local leaders pick up the responsibility to nurture and grow their local clubs and community. See Joe and Bonnie below.

    Like many Peace Corps Volunteers, I left Brazil in 1965 feeling I did okay, but sensing I could have done more.  I was not sure how much difference I really made.  Over the next 4 to 5 years, my ability to speak and write Portuguese dissipated and I lost contact with my family in Brazil.  It was also during the period of my service in the US Army and the Vietnam conflict.

    Over the next 30 years, I enjoyed working as a business consultant and executive coach.  I married, raised a family and divorced.  In 2004, I married Becky De Marie, and in 2010, we moved from the Los Angeles area of California to Alachua, a small town in Northcentral Florida. 

    In 2012, I received an email which asked, “Are you the Joe Thigpen that lived with us when you were in the Peace Corps?”  Zezo Doin, the oldest son, with help from his more internet savvy nephew, Fabrício, had found a way to contact me and start our reconnection. 

    I learned that Zezo’s mother, Miriam, was turning 80 soon and it was her dream to have her family find me if possible and invite me to visit them in Brazil.  She had an agenda and a program all worked out.  With the help of Facetime and Skype, we enjoyed a few stilted conversations, and reminded ourselves of how special it was to have been a family for those few years.  I was amazed at how moving our conversations were and how much emotion was shared as we rebuilt our friendships.  

    With the substantial help of Google Translate, we eventually scheduled a trip for Becky and me to visit the Doins in Santa Catarina in April 2014.  In the meantime, we shared our life stories and caught up on where our lives had taken us.  I was impressed to learn that Zezo is an engineer and owned a construction and development company; Jota is a veterinarian, Jane is a biology teacher, and Tânia is an artist.  All of them still live in Santa Catarina, although in different parts of the state.  I was quite surprised to hear how much credit they gave to me for setting an example of what an education means, although, I feel confident that the real heroes of this story were their parents, Guilherme and Miriam, who were astute in asking a young American Peace Corps Volunteer to share their home for those meaningful two years. Miriam - 2013

    A few months before our visit, Zezo called to inform me that Miriam had passed away.  It was sudden and unexpected, and they were all at peace with the full and vibrant life that she had lived, but he and his siblings were determined to fulfill her dream and execute her plan for our visit. 

    The “Dream” Visit

    On April 17, 2014, Becky and I left for Brazil.  When we arrived at the airport in Florianópolis, Santa Catarina, Zezo, Jota and their families were there to greet us.  It is difficult to fully capture the depth of emotions and smiles of joy we shared after 50-years apart.  Suffice it to say it was one of the most remarkable and touching moments of our lives.

    Over the next couple of weeks, we reconnected with Tânia and Jane, and came to know and appreciate the families of these remarkable siblings.  We were embraced as family and we learned how their children and grandchildren had learned about the American Peace Corps Volunteer who lived with them.  To them, I was their “long lost brother” who went missing, and now was back to be with them.

    Zezo, Joe, and Jota meeting at the Florianópolis airport after 50 years apart

    Our last stop was a return to Capinzal, the town of my Peace Corps service, and where Jane and her family still live.  One day while there, Zezo insisted that we jump in his car and head out to the rural areas to find some of the “kids” I worked with while I was serving in the Peace Corps.  It felt awkward to me, but Zezo was not allowing my hesitancy to change his mind because this was what Miriam had wanted. Soon we were on the unpaved roads I remembered so well.  Once or twice Zezo stopped and asked someone, “Are there any old people around here who might have been in the 4-S Clubs when they were young?”  On the third stop, we were directed to a farmhouse at the bottom of the hill.  A lady answered the door and invited us in.  Her name was Edith. 

    Her husband, Naudi, was indeed a member of 4-S, and she sent word to him to return to the house.  Soon, we saw him hurrying to greet us. He remembered fondly his experiences with Bonnie, me, and 4-S.  It was especially emotional because when I lost connection with my contacts in Brazil they had assumed that I was killed in Vietnam.  After coffee and conversations about our lives, he mentioned that Alduino Bonamigo, now in his late 80’s and one of the active local leaders supporting our work with 4-S, was alive and lived up the road just a few miles.  Off we went to visit my old friend and colleague.

    Alduino had lived a remarkable life.  His old barn was now a museum of his life size sculptures and carvings.  Shortly after we arrived, Delma, Alduino’s daughter, made a telephone call to her sister, Zélia, who told us how much her involvement in 4-S had meant to her.  As Zélia said, “Working with you and Bonnie in 4-S opened up a new world of possibilities to me.” Zélia is now a freelance journalist and a book editor working in Curitiba, the capital of the State of Paraná. 

    Joe with Alduino Bonamigo along with Naudi and Aloir Buzelato

    She asked her father to show us a copy of the book she and he had put together on his life.  Although showing signs of Alzheimer’s disease, Alduino’s eyes still sparkled as he paged through the biography.  Soon he showed us the chapter on his work as a local leader with 4-S.  A photo of Bonnie and I was on the first page, and it credited our work in introducing him to local leadership and 4-S.  In return, I showed a photo book I had put together for this trip, which included photos of Alduino and Zélia as we worked together during 1964 & 1965.

    Naudi, Joe, Alduino, and Zezo looking at photo book

    All through this exchange, Zezo was thinking how proud his mother would be to see this, and he struggled to hold back his tears.  At some point, Naudi and Zélia started talking about the next time I was back in Brazil they would gather the people from that era and host a reunion to celebrate those days. I smiled, but little did I know about what was to follow.

    Before we left Brazil, Becky and I solicited a commitment from Zezo and Jota to visit us in the United States.  Two years later, along with their wives, Marcia and Regina, they arrived in our small town of Alachua.  Our family, our neighbors, and our friends went all out to give them an experience of our community and our country.  Language did not seem to be much of a barrier to real moments of joy, laughter, and love.  My brother, Larry, suggested that good wine may have helped as well. 

    Over the next three weeks, we introduced them to their first game of golf. I entered us in the Alachua Woman’s Club Scramble tournament.   We may have been terrible, but I think no team had more fun.  We took them to see alligators in Paynes Prairie: we kayaked the Ichetucknee River; we flew them out to Los Angeles and Hollywood; and we took them to the outlet malls of Orlando, Florida, which may have been their favorite place to visit.   I think the evening dinners with family and friends turned out to be the most special time of all, and after three weeks we were still loving our time together.  Before they left, they achieved the miracle of getting my brother and his family to agree to visit them in Brazil the following year.

    A 50-year Reunion of Friendship and Memories

    It was soon clear as the plan for the visit took form that the 50-year reunion with the 4-S kids was in the works, and I redoubled my efforts to improve my Portuguese.  Larry even started to learn basic Portuguese, and his daughters, Susan and Lisa decided to relearn their high-school Spanish, believing that was an easier pathway to getting around basic language challenges in Brazil.  Becky and Glenda, Larry’s wife, took on the task of selecting gifts and making sure the details of the trip were clear and understood.  Just as point of reference, this was Larry’s first experience sleeping in a bed in a country other than the United States.

    We arrived in Florianópolis, SC, Brazil on March 10, and we spent our first week with family members living near the coast.  Juliana, Jota’s daughter, is a chef and owns Terraço Bistro, an elegant restaurant in Balneário-Camboriú.  She and her boyfriend, Luis Felipe, joined us for great meals, local adventures, and tall tales of their father’s childhood.  Tânia and her family also invited us over for an evening of friendship and family stories.  On the sixth day, we headed to Zezo’s town of Curitibanos.  His son, Anderson, and his daughter, Tathi, now had their own families there and work with Zezo in the family construction and development firm.  Except for the common complaints about Brazil’s internet service, we again enjoyed local sights, family meals, and great conversations. 

    In the few days before the reunion, it was evident that this event was to be bigger than I had imagined.  Marlo, from the local Ouro, SC, radio show, called to interview me and to work out arrangements with Zezo.  Zélia emailed over a copy of her presentation, and my anxiety level increased as I began to practice my Portuguese in earnest.  Soon I learned that the Mayor would open the event and a couple of the “kids” and town leaders would speak as well.  It was clear by now that my image of a few people sitting around the dining room embracing old memories needed to be updated.  The reunion turned out to be over 200 people from all ages, including over 20 people from my extended family, who had secured T-shirts that read, “The Doin – Thigpen Family.”

    “The Doin – Thigpen Family” - 2017

    It was pleasing to hear the various dignitaries speak of the impact our work had in their communities and in Brazil.  You could tell that they were speaking with sincerity and conviction.  It was difficult though to listen to the now adult 4-S Club members speak about the difference our Peace Corps work with them and the agricultural extension service had made in their lives.  Their appreciation and gratitude was powerful and touching and it was impossible not to fully accept and embrace their words. 

    Even more surprising were the individuals who came to us afterwards to express personal appreciation for touching their lives in some special way.  Moreover, several children and grandchildren came up to describe how their lives were different in some meaningful way. 

    To end the program, I played a short slideshow with photos covering our work with the “kids” over 50 years ago, as well as how the reunion came to be.  My choice of music was “Va, pensiero, sull’ali dorate” from Verdi’s ppera Nabucco, sung in Italian by the choir that Miriam belonged to.  Since many of the attendees were of Italian ancestry, I hoped it had special significance for them.  Becky tells me that more than a few had tears in their eyes as the photos quickly passed the screen.  It is difficult to fully express the deep feelings of appreciation, joy, and admiration I experienced as we parted to return to more normal moments, but suffice it to say it was a very powerful and touching celebration of our time together and the impact that time had upon all our lives.

    On stage with the 4-S guys from the 1960’s                          

     

     

     

     Three Lessons

    In closing, allow me to offer three compelling lessons this reunion with my Brazilian family and colleagues pounded into my heart and head.

    1. You never really know the difference you make on the lives of others.  Whether it is my extended Brazilian family, the youth I worked with and their extended families, or myself, I learned that influence spreads in ways you never imagined.

    1. Once again, I am vividly reminded that who you are as a person is as important as what you do.  When I was in the Peace Corps, I focused my attention on doing my work with competence and dedication.  I thought little of how I connected with people and the example I set as a person.  Yet much of the appreciation and gratitude I received was not actually about the work we did, but it was about a shared experience and personal connections.
    2. Finally, I am learning ever so slowly to accept, embrace and give appreciation and gratitude as deeply as possible.  My Brazilian family and “The Peace Corps kids” forced me to feel deeply their appreciation in ways that will stay with me always.  In return, I am deeply grateful to them for their gifts to me.  It is my intent to remember this lesson as I move forward with my life.

    I am confident that my story represents many Peace Corps Volunteers and the differences they made over three generations, even though few may have received the affection and appreciation I did, especially with a 50-year celebration reunion.  I will never forget the graciousness and kindness shown me by these special people that shared two wonderful years with me while I was in the Peace Corps.

  • Hubbard House CEO Ellen Siler, shown here in 2015, is retiring this year after running the Jacksonville domestic violence shelter since 1998. (Bob Mack/Florida Times-Union)

    Ellen Siler, longtime CEO of the Hubbard House in Jacksonville, plans to retire this year after 25 years of helping domestic violence survivors and their children. Siler, 69, who has run the local shelter since January 1998, will depart after a successor is hired. Bob Baldwin, president of the nonprofit’s board of directors, said: “Ellen Siler has been at the helm … for nearly 20 years of the organization’s 40-year history,” he said. “She was there when the movement was just gaining ground and she has seen it through to the current day, when domestic violence is broadly understood as a crime and victims are validated and helped. On behalf of all of us on the board of directors, I say well done, Ellen, and thank you.” Siler’s professional career began with two years in the Peace Corps in Jamaica. Prior to arriving at Hubbard House, she led Quigley House, the shelter in Clay County. “For almost two decades I’ve been privileged to serve as the CEO of Hubbard House, one of the very first domestic violence shelters in the Southeast,” Siler said.

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    Joseph M. Acaba was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 2004. The California native has logged a total of 138 days in space during two missions. In 2009, Acaba flew aboard STS-119 on the Space Shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station to deliver the final pair of power-generating solar array wings and a truss element. During this mission, he conducted two spacewalks. In 2012, Acaba flew aboard a Soyuz spacecraft to the space station where he worked as Flight Engineer for the Expedition 31/32. During this mission, the first commercial resupply spacecraft,SpaceX Dragon, arrived at the station. Acaba recently served as Director of Operations Russia in Star City supporting crew training in Soyuz and Russian Segment systems. He is currently a part of the Expedition 53/54 crew that launched to the International Space Station in September 2017.

    Acaba was a member of the United States Marine Corps, Reserves. He worked as a hydro-geologist in Los Angeles, California, primarily on Superfund sites, and was involved in the assessment and remediation of groundwater contaminants. He spent two years in the United States Peace Corps as an Environmental Education Awareness Promoter in the Dominican Republic. Prior to arriving at NASA, he taught one year of high school science at Melbourne FL.

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    After graduating from the University of North Florida in 2005, Frances Luna joined the Peace Corps and headed for Niger in West Africa.

    For two years she was a community health agent in a village called Dan Turke in the south central region of Maradi. The village had no electricity or running water. She was in one of the poorest countries in the world, where people were dying because of a food crisis.

    But Luna, now 34, said she would do it all again. She made a difference, improving the villagers’ health and quality of life, even obtaining a grant to pay for a new well. And the experience made her brave, broadened her perspective and reminded her to take nothing for granted.

    “In the beginning it was super hard,” she said. “That’s what changed me from a scaredy-cat … It’s a way to open your eyes.


    The Peace Corps is a U.S. government program that sends volunteers to 60 countries to work on community projects. To date, 81 UNF graduates have joined, including eight who were in service last year.

    Luna hopes Peace Corps Prep, a new undergraduate certificate program to be launched Thursday, will increase the Peace Corps’ visibility on campus and in Northeast Florida.

    Young people are “so involved with technology and know what’s going on around the world,” she said. “They would enjoy having that opportunity.”

    Peace Corps Prep is a partnership between the Peace Corps and almost 90 colleges and universities that prepares students for international service. The program runs concurrently with students’ bachelor’s degree studies, integrating coursework with hands-on experience in one of the six Peace Corps work sectors: health, education, environment, agriculture, youth development and business development. Also, students learn leadership, intercultural competence and foreign language skills.

    Upon completion, they will receive a Peace Corps certificate and a “competitive edge” when applying for a Peace Corps assignment.

    Other participating Florida schools are the University of Florida, University of South Florida, Florida International University and Stetson University, according to the Peace Corps website.

    “This program … is still relatively new and growing. We heard about it from a student inquiry, checked it out and decided this would be something we’d like to develop and provide to students,” said Tim Robinson, UNF director of international affairs and Peace Corps Prep adviser.

    He said he wants to start the program with about five students and add another five each year.

    “I am looking forward to seeing how students respond,” Robinson said. “I know that when our regional Peace Corps recruiter comes to campus, he gets many students at his sessions, so the interest is there.”

    Peace Corps Prep will be part of UNF’s International Center, which serves international students and develops international study programs and other activities for domestic students.

    “Jacksonville cannot be separated from the international events and the global realities we all live in today,” Robinson said. “We try to help provide our students different ways to connect with the world around us.”

    Ellen Siler, another local Peace Corps veteran, said the program sounds like a great idea.

    “Not only could it possibly give them an edge toward getting in, it could help prepare them for the realities of Peace Corps service. Peace Corps is a very rewarding experience, but not for everyone,” Siler said. “It takes a high level of commitment and flexibility. The more informed potential volunteers are, the greater chance of their experience being a good fit for them and for the country of service.”

    Luna, who is from Puerto Rico and majored in international studies, is now a senior case manager for Catholic Charities in Jacksonville, helping find employment for newly-arrived refugees. Her heritage and her Peace Corps experience help her relate to her clients, she said.

    “I know what it is to come to a new country, learn a new language, adapt,” she said. “I was in their shoes. … It was tough. I get it.”

     

  • 18 Nov 2017 by David A Miron

    Retiring in 2015, Rosemary Takacs is a retired JEA employee and active member of the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach who is soon headed to Guatemala to assist with a water project. A twice returned Peace Corps volunteer, Takacs has a significant background in international development.

    What’s your background?

    The Michigan/Indiana region between I-94 and I-80 is where I spent most of my first four decades, including Michigan universities for undergrad and grad school. I majored in accounting and auditing with grad work in production and cost control. Most of my early CPA career was devoted to auditing manufacturers in the region. I was also raising my daughter Jennifer, who would eventually head to Indiana University Bloomington. When she left for college, I left for Peace Corps Paraguay, which would kick off my passion for international development. 

    What was next for you?

    Four months after I arrived in Paraguay, the country’s longtime dictator was overthrown, and the country was somewhat in turmoil. I stayed for another two years, picking up Spanish while organizing farmers’ cooperatives, teaching accounting and even auditing an infamous agricultural collective. When I returned to the U.S., I was hired by the U.S. Mint San Francisco as a production controller, which led me to spend the next 15 years in Northern California. At the millennium, I switched from manufacturing coins to chemicals. But in 2004, the bust reached the pharmaceutical industry. By then, my daughter, her husband (Dr. and Mrs. John Lazzara) and my three young grandsons (Alex, Davis and Will) were settling in Ponte Vedra, so I was lured to the East Coast. 

    I soon joined JEA’s internal audit staff, where I worked until my retirement in June 2015. While working at JEA, I was asked to translate for some water projects. JEA water department engineers had partnered with Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Rotary and others. A site selection team was formed in 2012 to assess various Honduran projects, and I was invited to go. Suddenly I was back in the international development field and would make five trips to Honduras over the next three years. On a whim, I decided to look at the Peace Corps website for Response (volunteers who have previously served as Peace Corps volunteers). There was an interesting short-term assignment: organizing a goat milk cooperative in Nebaj, Quiche, Guatemala. Six weeks after I retired from JEA, I was serving in Peace Corps Guatemala, where I would live and work until March 2016.

    We understand you’re headed back to Guatemala soon. What’s the project all about?

    I will be returning to Guatemala to assist with a water project in the community of La Esperanza in Sololá. The Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach, Beaches Rotaract and Rotary District 6970 are primary funding partners, with technical and construction support from the University of North Florida College of Engineering, Wisconsin Water for the World and Agua Para La Salud. Peace Corps Guatemala has offered to assign a volunteer to the community to teach hygiene and water quality monitoring once we complete the system. The volunteer will work with the community water board (Junta del Agua) to assist in establishing water rates and measuring consumption from a meter we are installing at each of the 120 houses and the school. The community of La Esperanza has raised nearly 30 percent of the construction funds, plus donating all of the unskilled labor, locally sourced sand, gravel and framing timber. 

    Continue Reading and Listening to Rosemary by clicking the Links below

    http://pontevedrarecorder.com/stories/one-of-us-rosemary-takacs,4661?

    https://22319f6521329ff94f35-bf3acad07cdf7f6971277aea81dc03c7.ssl.cf1.rackcdn.com/pontevedra-9914.mp4

     

  • Barbara A. B. Gubbin, director, Jacksonville Public Library (Jacksonville, Florida),
    has been named the 2017 winner of ALA’s Ernest A. DiMattia Award for Innovation and Service to
    Community and Profession. The award, supported by the DiMattia Family, recognizes a public
    librarian who demonstrates leadership in anticipating emerging trends in services, products and
    technologies that will enhance the library’s position in its community. The winner also
    participates in the life of the community using membership in and volunteer service through a
    broad range of community organizations and projects.
    Gubbin is being honored for her many accomplishments to bring new services and ideas to both
    the library and into the community. The library’s vision is “Start Here, Go Anywhere,” which is
    evident in the outstanding leadership Gubbin has shown through outreach and in the diverse
    community partnerships that she has created.
    Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry states, “through persistence and infectious passion for the
    library, she has built the strongest partnership with the Duval County School System that JPL has
    had in years.” The partnership enabled the library to issue special Student Library Cards to nearly
    130,000 students in nearly 150 schools, in kindergarten through 12th grades.
    The DCPS partnership was designed to improve reading proficiency, and also to increase student
    accessibility to the library. Students can check out books or audiobooks and return them to any
    JPL location. Additionally, educator cards enable teachers to check out more materials for longer
    periods of time for classroom use. During the first year, all students in kindergarten through
    second grade visited a library to check out books. For third through fifth grades, library staff
    visited school classrooms to provide educational presentations. As part of the continuing
    partnership, DCPS kindergarten, fourth, and seventh graders are continuing field trips to the
    library this school year.
    The annual award, consisting of $5,000 and a citation of achievement, will be presented at the
    ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, Illinois in June.2017
    Here is Barbara at our 2017 Partnership dinner doing what she does best, convincing all of us  "You can go anywhere by Reading"