Called to Service

a man with red glasses and a blonde woman standing on their porch and a sign that says "diverse, inclusive, accepting, welcoming, safe space for everyone"
Lex Smith and Clemens Weygandt served a Peace Corps tour in Turkmenistan, and used their stipend to travel together, before settling in Mt. Lebanon. /Photo: John Altdorfer

Logo: "Called to Service."For some residents, “service” has a special meaning. That’s because they stepped up to offer their time and talents to organizations such as the Peace Corps abroad and AmeriCorps in the U.S. Such service involved setting aside their own agendas and careers and turning their lives over for the good of others for a year or two.

urkmenistan is where life together began for Lex Smith and Clemens Weygandt of Hazel Drive. They met while serving in the Peace Corps there from fall  2007 through December 2009.

Weygandt, then 23, had grown up all over western Europe with parents who were diplomats in the U.S. Foreign Service. After college, he was unsure what he wanted to do with his life. “The Peace Corps bought me time,” he said.

Smith graduated from Mt. Lebanon High School in 2002 and had also recently finished college when she signed up. Following three months of language training in Turkmenistan, she was assigned to do health education in a small city and worked at a maternity clinic that had no running water. She also taught English and co-wrote grants with local residents.

Weygandt was on a team that did initial visits to build trust and assess needs. He also taught English to schoolchildren from kindergarten through 10th grade.

“I would recommend the experience but caution people to manage their expectations,” he said. “You probably won’t change the world. But sometimes the ripple effects of living a good life are underappreciated. I learned the value of being a good friend and neighbor, a good listener.”

Weygandt said that Peace Corps volunteers who left early were less likely to quit because of hardship and more because they didn’t feel they were making a difference.

Smith added, “Sometimes you just have to look for small steps. I boarded with a multi-generational Muslim family. When Clemens came for dinner and I suggested that he clear the table and start the dishes (by hand and using buckets of water), they were shocked! A man doing housework? But in time they came to accept that it wasn’t only up to women to do the housework. So we accomplished that.”

The two used their stipend to travel after their stint in the Peace Corps. Eventually they found their way to Pittsburgh and settled in Mt. Lebanon. Smith is now a preschool teacher at Temple Emanuel and Weygandt a corporate attorney. They are the parents of three.

When asked how their Peace Corps experiences changed their lives, Smith replied simply: “I met my husband!”

Weygandt was more philosophical. “When I first went into the Peace Corps, my idea of service was more self-centered. If you go in with an open mind and put your heart into it, it can be an amazing experience.”