Deanna “DT” Simmons, a 2004 graduate of Apalachicola High School who joined the Peace Corps in 2011, will be returning home for a visit soon and stay until Dec 29.

An Apalachicola native, she is the daughter of Elinor Mount-Simmons and Bernard Simmons. During her visit, H’COLA will sponsor a meet-and-greet event so the community can come out and listen as Deanna shares of her Peace Corps experiences. The date will be announced later.

Simmons began her service in Ethiopia, living in the small community of Injibara, also known as Kosober, in the Amhara region. As a Peace Corps volunteer, she served as a volunteer in the community health and HIV prevention sector, working on water sanitation, HIV prevention, agricultural preservation, and youth and gender empowerment through a series of mentorship programs.

Simmons also led the Injibara Clean Water Garden and HIV Prevention Project, which now brings water to more than 5,000 students, staff and teachers at the local high school. The school had not had running water for years and when Simmons shared this news of this with her family, she said the jubilation from the students at having this water flow from their school faucets was like Christmas morning for us back in the states.

This project was highly successful and through this awareness program organized by Simmons and her counterparts, the preparatory school of their community was awarded the President’s Green Hero Award for their diligent efforts in environmental conservation and indigenous agricultural preservation.

Having recently completed a 27-month contract, Simmons has accepted a competitive third-year extension position with the Peace Corps as a training unit leader. Her work includes ensuring quality technical and cross-cultural sessions for both pre-service and in-service trainings for Peace Corps Volunteer trainees, with the primary focus of providing support, as well as improving the preparation and experience of the new volunteer.

Currently Simmons lives and works in the nation’s capital, Addis Ababa, one of the continent’s largest cities located within the Horn of Africa.

In an Oct. 3 email, Carrie Hessler-Radelet, acting director of the Peace Corps, wrote that she had visited with Simmons during a recent trip to Ethiopia as part of an Aspen Institute-supported congressional delegation focused on “Development in Africa.”

On the day set aside for Peace Corps, Simmons and eight of her fellow Volunteers and Peace Corps Country Director Greg Engle, met with Hessler-Radelet. Following that, the group, together with two dozen members of Congress and their spouses, and a dozen or so experts, piled into buses and drove two-and-one-half hours each way to visit Peace Corps Volunteers in Ambo, a medium-sized town southwest of Addis.

The group visited a school, they were introduced to a classroom where an English club recited a poem. The group then visited with several teenage girls who had attended a Peace Corps-supported girl’s leadership camp. The girls led everyone in a game of “Elephants and Lions” to increase awareness of the side effects of HIV/AIDS. The group was impressed by the knowledge, poise and English language skills of the girls, who presented each of them with a friendship bracelet.

The group also visited a health center, where they learned about work to support people living with disabilities. Later they visited a demonstration permagarden on the grounds of the health center, the handiwork of a group of HIV positive women, a beautiful, large garden from which the women were able to get fresh fruits and vegetables.

Hessler-Radelet said Simmons shared her Peace Corps experience with the members of Congress, who were overwhelmingly impressed with what they saw and learned. The acting Peace Corps director said Simmons was articulate about her life in Ethiopia, and willing to discuss both the joys and the challenges of serving there.

“I’m sure you are very proud of Deanna and all she is accomplishing,” wrote Hessler-Radelet. “She is an enormous help to our training staff. I was able to visit the training site where DT was working and it is clear that the trainees love her and really look up to her as a role model and friend.

“I'm sure it is hard to have her so far away – especially for third year --and you must miss her a lot, but I hope you are comforted by knowing what a great job she is doing,” Hessler-Radelet wrote. “ We recognize that her Peace Corps service is a sacrifice for you and your family as well, and we really appreciate your continued support and encouragement of Deanna’s service. Family support means so much to our volunteers.

“She is an incredible Volunteer. She has such a bright future ahead of her, and I was so glad I got to meet her,” she wrote.