Allison “Sunny” Stimmler has lived in Japan, Bosnia, Serbia, Turkmenistan and Bulgaria, but she has been “going home” to Utah her entire life.

In November 2015, former Utah resident Stimmler received the Secretary of State Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad, which recognizes volunteer efforts of U.S. government employees, spouses and family members overseas.

The SOSA was created by then-Secretary of State James Baker and his wife in 1990, according to information from the award committee.

“To have someone with that stature recognize the value of volunteerism and service legitimizes these usually ignored endeavors,” said Stimmler, whose husband, Brian Stimmler, is a public affairs officer. “Although not necessary, that kind of external validation for unpaid work was really gratifying.”

Sunny Stimmler received the award for her activity in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, where she used her time and talents to foster a community of women, raise funds for those with physical disabilities and help Turkmens improve their writing skills.

As a member of the Ashgabat International Women’s Network, Stimmler organized a book group and monthly lunches that facilitated positive discussion among women from different cultures.

These discussions always started with a thought-provoking question, she wrote in an email response to questions from the Deseret News.

“The one that elicited one of our best conversations was, ‘What inspires you to be creative?’ ” Stimmler said. “These questions and the conversations they prompted transformed a mere social event into cathartic time during which we encouraged, inspired and energized each other.”

Similar experiences resulted from her writing workshops and seminars. Stimmler helped local youths and adults write poems, essays, stories and even college applications once a week.

“After a year or so of giving workshop attendees exercises, prompts and little assignments, I turned our last workshop into an ‘open mic’ event,” she said. “I was surprised by how many of them wrote to me: little poems of appreciation, small stories of thanks and tender expressions of gratitude.”

Stimmler observed the growth of the attendees during the workshops.

“Many of them had never engaged in any kind of creative writing before attending my workshops, and it was obvious that this exposure to artistic expression had impacted their lives,” she said.

Her work to unite cultures may have been recognized recently, but Stimmler has always believed in service, thanks in part to her upbringing in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“Volunteering is satisfying; it’s a way to make friends, it’s a way to learn about other cultures, it’s a way to bring new experiences into my life and my home, and it’s a way to get out of the house and find purpose in my own life,” she said. “It is deeply rewarding to be involved in something that helps and benefits others.”

For those looking for ways to get more involved in volunteerism, she suggests looking for organizations that already exist in the community, then finding out where you fit in.

“What do they need? How can they use your talents and skills?” she said. “Get involved in what they do. Give them some of your time. They will be grateful to have your service. And I promise you’ll feel rewarded and satisfied.”

Email: scobb@deseretnews.com