Thoughts on Improving the Peace Corps
By Jonathan Pearson on Wednesday, August 18th, 2010
Last fall, when the National Peace Corps Association conducted our Better, Bolder Peace Corps survey, one of the key findings was that the agency take a close look at volunteer benefits. As our executive summary noted, “those most directly affected – applicants, current volunteers and recent RPCVs – feel a strong need for improved volunteer benefits. No one specific benefit was the clear preference and a further consideration of improving the benefits offered to Volunteers is warranted.”
The agency has begun to address this challenge, most notably earlier this year when it announced an increase in the volunteer readjustment allowance. On Tuesday, as part of our “Coffee and Conversation” gathering in Bloomington Indiana, we sat down with four recent RPCVs and asked for their thoughts on how to improve the Peace Corps. Perhaps not surprisingly, volunteer benefits was at the top of their list. But their concerns were not only about big ticket items such as student loan support. And their ideas didn’t center exclusively on their needs.
For Cale and Sara Reeves, who served together in Samoa from 2007 – 09, their initial thought turned to a fellow volunteer they served with from the state of Florida. Cale and Sara said their friend – a lifelong Florida resident – joined them in Samoa for two years then returned home with a desire to continue serving others. He decided to become an Emergency Medical Technician and applied for school. However, because he had been serving in Samoa, he was determined not eligible for in-state tuition because he had not been living in Florida for the past year.
Rose Galer (Paraguay 03-05) is finishing her graduate studies at the School for Public and Environmental Affairs this fall. With the job hunt underway, Rose pointed to another benefit enhancement that has been raised by others: improving the non-competitive eligibility (NCE) status for RPCVs applying for federal jobs. Currently, volunteers are offered that status for one year after service. The group noted many volunteers spend much of that first year readjusting to life back home and figuring out what to do next. “Lots of volunteers come back and go to graduate school,” said Rose. “Now that I’m about to graduate, now is when I could really use the NCE status.” Possible improvements suggested by the group included extending the years of eligibility or allowing flexibility in applying the status, so RPCVs could use the year-long NCE when it is appropriate to their career path.
Another area of ongoing improvement this group endorsed was to continue recruiting older volunteers. “Recruiting people who are just retired or retired is really great,” said Jake Knight (Mongolia 05-07). “Not only do they bring a lifetime of skills, but age gets you credit in many countries and cultures.” And, while the recruitment of retirees moves Peace Corps closer to its longstanding goal of representing the diverse face of America, Cale Reeves suggested that “You’ll never represent America without selecting people in the prime of their lives.” One suggestion? Consider ways to expand Peace Corps service to middle-aged parents so their dependents can be included.
On to Illinois! Follow this link for next stops on our NPCA Road Trip, which runs through September 1st.
P.S. As a Volunteer, Sara wrote a wonderful article about tatooing in Samoa for the spring 2009 issue of WorldView.