When Bea Kelly-Russo ’21, ’22 MA left for Ecuador in May for a two-year tour with the Peace Corps, she made sure to pack her skateboard.
“It took up a hefty five pounds in my suitcase, but [it’s] well worth it,” said Kelly-Russo, a Westover Honors Fellow who has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy-political science and a master’s in nonprofit leadership studies from the University of Lynchburg.
Kelly-Russo — one of the Peace Corps’ first volunteers to return to service since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic — applied to the agency to serve “where most needed.” She was assigned to Ecuador, where she’s working as a youth and families development promoter.
“The Peace Corps model works by integrating volunteers into the culture and community by pairing them with an already established local organization to work alongside,” she explained.
“Along with my counterpart, I’ll work to develop youth and family programming to teach life skills, employability, community engagement, and health and well-being of youth, ages 10-29, and their caretakers.”
After earning her degrees at Lynchburg, Kelly-Russo worked for Interfaith Outreach, a Lynchburg, Virginia-based nonprofit that provides emergency financial assistance to residents. She also was a long-term substitute teacher at Herndon Elementary in Fairfax, Virginia, which she said “gave me a lot of great experience working with kids.”
In collaboration with Lynchburg Parks and Recreation and with support from a local skate shop, Kelly-Russo — who took up skateboarding two and a half years ago — also organized skateboarding programs for school-aged children and women and girls.
“What I love about the sport is that it does not come with instantaneous results,” she said, adding that she encourages anyone with “the tiniest inkling” to try skateboarding. “I think it’s an underrated sport, especially for women.”
That five-pound skateboard, lugged 2,700 miles from Lynchburg to South America, could come in handy in her current Peace Corps assignment.
“So far, I’ve been riding it around my neighborhood, but I would love to incorporate it into my work with young people, depending on resources available,” she said. “It’s unlikely we’d have the funding available to buy kids boards, but I can get innovative.”