Local | Volunteer Salute

Peace Corps veterans keep giving service where needed

Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows Katy Cremer and David Thalenberg at the University of Arizona Campus Women’s Plaza of Honor. (Debe Campbell/AJP)

The Peace Corps takes a unique approach to making a difference. The altruistic, hands-on, volunteer program, founded in 1961, provides social and economic development abroad. Through technical assistance, it promotes mutual understanding between Americans and foreign populations. Many U.S. college undergrads complete two-year assignments in developing nations, often working in rural environments. Following service, educational awards assist with continued studies.

Graduate students Katy Cremer and David Thalenberg became Peace Corps Paul D. Coverdell Fellows in the fall semester, having previously completed service, Cremer in 2017 in Namibia and Thalenberg last year in Paraguay.

“They are both outstanding Peace Corps Coverdell Fellows,” says Georgia Ehlers, director of fellowships and community engagement for the University of Arizona’s Coverdell Fellows. “Coverdell transitions return Peace Corps volunteers” back to student life, Thalenberg says. With the Coverdell community, “we already have friends on campus,” adds Cremer.

Among the 120 universities working with the Coverdell Fellowship, the UA has the nation’s largest group, taking in 25 new fellows each year. Students receive tuition remission, scholarships, a stipend, and rent allowance. UA offers fellows one of the best deals, says Cremer. In return, fellows must spend 10 hours weekly in volunteer, technical outreach to local agencies. They also participate in furthering the Peace Corps mission, social service projects, and professional and leadership development.

Cremer completed her undergraduate degree in anthropology and sociology, minoring in biology, at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, where she was treasurer of the Student Jewish Organization. She took the Taglit-Birthright Trip to Israel and worked in Jewish overnight camps during undergraduate school.

In rural Namibia, she was a community health volunteer, tackling the human immunodeficiency virus and tuberculosis issues. She developed after-school youth health clubs, and Camp YEAH (Youth Exploring and Achieving in Health), to teach regional adolescents about teen pregnancy and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. She trained youth to share with others what they learned and worked with a local counterpart to build sustainability. “The best part was working with kids,” Cremer recalls.

At UA, she is pursuing a public health master’s in epidemiology while contributing hours to Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest’s refugee resettlement efforts. She works with the medical case manager to support resident refugees, primarily from the Congo, Somalia, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

Thalenberg is an Israeli native who moved to Arizona with his family as a youngster. A graduate of Northern Arizona University with a dual degree in Latin American studies and public administration, he is pursuing his masters in the same fields. In Paraguay, he worked in an urban environment in community economic development through tourism. He was able to help identify sites of touristic interest, develop a tour guide course to train workers, create a tour route and initiate promotion for the region. He also led three-month-long entrepreneurship courses sector-wide to encourage business startups.

His local outreach is with the Department of Labor’s wage and hours division, helping underserved communities know their labor rights. Thalenberg previously worked with Mitzvah Corps in Seattle (refugee resettlement), New Orleans (civil rights) and Washington, D.C. (homeless outreach); and the Reform Jewish Youth Movement NFTY SOCAL. He has lived, studied and worked in Costa Rica, Brazil, Israel, China, and Paraguay and speaks five languages.

While neither fellow has firm postgraduate plans, they are prepared for bright futures in a community that will be fortunate to have their experience.