Kennedy’s shadow: Marietta resident parlays Peace Corps experience into Capitol Hill opportunity
by Alison Jibilian
MDJ Intern
March 08, 2013 11:57 PM | 3199 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Shelley Nweke
Shelley Nweke
Shelley Nweke of Marietta recently spent a day on Capitol Hill shadowing Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, a congressman with whom she shares an alma mater and a passion for the Peace Corps.

Nweke is a first-generation Nigerian American born to naturalized immigrant parents and is a former basketball standout at Marietta High School and Stanford University.

After attending Stanford on a basketball scholarship in 2006, earning her bachelor’s in management science and engineering, she later joined the Peace Corps.

She was given the opportunity to shadow Kennedy on Feb. 26 through “Take a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to Work Day,” an annual Peace Corps Week initiative that gives returned volunteers an opportunity to network with potential employers.

After college, Nweke served in the Peace Corps as a community development volunteer in Suriname from 2009 to 2012.

She created illustrated stories for the country’s Ministry of Education, as well as designed and implemented a plan to combat energy poverty. She also collaborated with the Bay Area Basketball Academy to organize basketball clinics that empower women through sports.

While she enjoyed working to improve life in Suriname, Nweke’s favorite part was learning about the local culture.

“Some of my favorite moments were when I was invited to participate in their traditional events, or share a meal with them,” said Nweke, who graduated from Marietta High in 2002. “Without being open to learning about them, I would have never been able to accomplish any projects.”

Nweke soaked up the local culture, but she also enjoyed representing American culture.

“I think I taught them about real Americans and not the just the ones they see on the TV shows or movies,” she said. “I believe I represented my country in a positive way and that the people I interacted with have a better understanding of and a fondness for American people.”

Nweke returned home in August 2012. She began taking classes at GSU and volunteering with Midtown Assistance Center, an organization that provides food, clothing, and monetary assistance to individuals and families that suffered from sudden income losses.

“I think I’m still transitioning, although I was ready to return home at the end of three and a half years,” said Nweke. “I do miss the volunteers I served with and the community members that became good friends.”

Nweke learned about the opportunity to shadow a congressman a little less than a week before the event from Kat Edwards, a volunteer Nweke met in Suriname.

“I was hesitant at first about following a congressman because I wasn’t sure what their personality would be or what they would ask me,” said Nweke. “But I knew that most people never get a chance to do something like this so I agreed.”

While shadowing Kennedy, Nweke was given the opportunity to talk with the Massachusetts representative one-on-one, discussing their shared experiences as Peace Corps volunteers and Stanford University graduates. She was also able to sit in on all of his meetings, as well as take a tour of the Capitol.

Nweke hopes to make an impact by helping find solutions for complicated issues, such as global poverty.

“I don’t think the experience has made me want to become a congresswoman or an elected official, but it has restored some of my faith in Washington,” said Nweke. “Now I know for sure that there are some very bright and committed people there trying to do the right thing, and I hope I’ve gained an ally when I do get to the point where I make my vision a reality.”
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