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Two Queens residents rejoin Peace Corps Response team to fight COVID-19

In June 2018, Simmone Deane snaps photos at a College and Career Fair she helped to organize with teachers in her community high school. (Photo courtesy of Peace Corps)

Two Queens residents are rejoining the Peace Corps as a response volunteer for the agency’s special domestic deployment to a FEMA-supported Community Vaccination Center (CVC) in the United States to aid in the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Simmone Deane, 32, of Laurelton, and Judith Jones, 60, of Jamaica, will join the Peace Corps Response, a program that sends individuals with specialized experience to short-term service assignments. Deane and Jones are training in Texas and will head to their respective postings on Thursday, May 20. 

The three-month assignments reflect the agency’s commitment to President Biden’s call to service to combat the pandemic with a whole-of-government effort and to mobilize all resources. The Peace Corps is placing an emphasis on assisting in communities with the greatest need, where populations are traditionally underserved. 

“The Peace Corps works hand-in-hand with communities on their most pressing challenges, and right now the U.S. faces some of the biggest challenges in our country’s history,” said Carol Spahn, Peace Corps acting director. “The volunteers who contribute to this effort will bring valuable cross-cultural experience, language skills and adaptability fostered during their time overseas as they contribute to an equitable vaccination campaign here at home.” 

After serving the Peace Corps in the Kingdom of Eswatini as a health extension volunteer and among the nearly 7,000 volunteers serving when the agency globally evacuated in March 2020, Deane thought her journey with the agency had come to a final end. While she never imagined serving again, Deane still has a spirit of volunteerism and service, she said. 

“I see this special deployment as a call to action; it is within my ability to respond and do my part to positively affect the course of the pandemic and the lives of others,” Deane said. 

Meanwhile, Jones, who had served in Belize as a literacy support specialist before the evacuation, said it’s an extremely important effort and that everyone should pitch in and do whatever they can to help fight the virus. 

“The faster we get this virus under control in the U.S., the faster can help other countries mobilize and eradicate this scourge everywhere else in the world,” Jones said. “We are at war with the coronavirus, and we can only win if more people get vaccinated quickly.”

Judith Jones (center) volunteered as a literacy support specialist in Belize from 2019 to 2020 and worked helping second-grade teachers teach literacy in their classrooms. (Photo courtesy of Peace Corps)

The Peace Corps began recruiting volunteers for the special domestic deployment after it was announced by the agency and FEMA on March 31. Peace Corps volunteers and Peace Corps Response volunteers who were given “completion of service” status in 2020 as part of the global evacuation due to COVID-19 are eligible to serve. 

Volunteers will be assigned to language support, administrative, logistical and other work that supports the operation of FEMA-funded Community Vaccination Centers, but will not be administering the vaccine, nor will they engage in any other clinical work during their assignment. 

The agency’s short-term contribution to the domestic response to COVID-19 will not alter its commitment to overseas service once conditions permit. Preparations for returning overseas posts continue in parallel to the special assignment. 

“Over the last 14 months, we have all seen the depths of destruction and experienced loss in some form as a result of this pandemic,” Deane said. “This project holds extreme importance, because it serves as another puzzle piece toward betterment for everyone. There is no going back to life before COVID-19, but aiding in vaccination efforts is a place to start.” 

For Jones, her truest motivation is that she wants the world to know that Americans are working together to make the world a better place, saying, “Because we care about our planet and every person on it, this is what we do — we help others.” 

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