Peace Corps Funding Advocacy in Wisconsin
By Jonathan Pearson on Tuesday, August 24th, 2010
Protecting our water resources. Training teachers. Expanding business opportunities. From villages on the other side of the world to communities that are moments away, members of the Milwaukee Peace Corps Association shared their stories of service with staff of Wisconsin Senator Herb Kohl at a district meeting in which they urged Senate support for President Obama’s $446 million funding request for the Peace Corps.
“It was good for them to meet with constituents. It will help them remember us and our issues,” said Cheryl Nenn, Advocacy Coordinator for the Milwaukee RPCVs. An Ecuador (95-97) and Honduras Crisis Corps (99) volunteer, Cheryl works with Milwaukee Riverkeeper, advocating every day for clean water and healthy communities in her home state. She was joined by other RPCVs who represent the Peace Corps value of service beyond self.
Advancing global development through education was part of the story these RPCVs shared with Senator Kohl’s staff. Tom Felhofer, who served in Malawi with his wife Lynn, from 1988-90, told of his work teaching computers and college level accounting. Dzidra Benish served as a teacher trainer in Poland from 1992-94, after retiring from the Milwaukee Public Schools. “It was like I died and went to teacher’s heaven,” said Benish, who proudly added that her grandson followed her footsteps, joining the Peace Corps as a volunteer in China.
Service to local education was also part of the post Peace Corps benefits provided by these RPCVs. Mike Farmer, who served in Nepal from 1963-65 and held several Peace Corps staff positions, returned to Milwaukee to work with the continuing education programs at Marquette University. Mike helped set up tutoring programs and assisted with the establishment of the Commando Project, in which former inmates started a high school in the inner city. For John Schroder, a Costa Rica small business volunteer from 1996-98, his focus since returning centered around working with Milwaukee’s Latino community, including teaching classes on credit and accounting in association with the Latino Entrepreneurial Network.
Senator Kohl is a member of the Appropriations Committee, which last month recommended $420 million for the Peace Corps for Fiscal Year 2011. That’s $26 million less than President Obama’s request. A House subcommittee has recommended supporting the President’s Peace Corps budget. As this figure will need to be reconciled in the coming months, advocates are urged to take action with their lawmakers – just like this week’s action by RPCVs in Milwaukee.