A 50th Toast in Beaumont
By Jonathan Pearson on Thursday, June 16th, 2011
The Starbucks-Beaumont barista checked out my hat as I ordered a late-afternoon fruit drink and asked me, “You were in the Peace Corps?”
Our quick conversation led to a sharing of links to the NPCA and Peace Corps websites, and I noted I was getting together shortly with several returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) from the local area. To which she replied, “I didn’t think there was anyone from Beaumont who served in the Peace Corps.”
In reality, RPCVs are to local communities across the country as Starbucks are to coffee shops: You don’t have to travel very far to find some!
Linda Cansler (Uganda 67-69) worked with the NPCA to help coordinate the dinner gathering, which brought together three RPCVs from the first decade of Peace Corps service and two recent returnees. After a toast to the 50th anniversary, the group shared stories and recollections on their service and post-service.
Linda recalled her assignment at a boys secondary boarding school required the flexibility that so many volunteers face, regardless of era. Trained to be an English teacher, Linda had to adjust when her headmaster asked her to teach math instead. She made the adjustment, worked with some very bright students and was pleased that one of them received a top score in national math exams.
Linda noted she lived for two years in a mud hut with a grass roof. Not the living experience for all volunteers these days, but it was for Carol Cuccio who served in Zambia from 2006 – 2008.
While some in the group acknowledged they recieve mixed reaction from neighbors and friends when they talk about the Peace Corps, Carol has had a somewhat different experience. Registered with Peace Corps’ Speakers Match program, Carol has also been pro-active in seeking out and speaking before groups in southeastern Texas. “People are very excited to hear about my Peace Corps service.” While some people she encounters have never heard of the Peace Corps, “others may have heard about it, but don’t know all about it…I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot in advancing the third goal of Peace Corps (to bring the world back home).”
John Blake (Afghanistan/Brazil 71-74) also shares his experiences with others, often
traveling to his alma mater of Texas A&M when they have recruitment programs. John works with the US Agriculture Department’s Grain Inspection Service, making sure that grains exported from the U.S. to other nations are of high quality and will be well received by countries around the world. His proud support for the Peace Corps is in evidence by any who see the back of his pickup truck (pictured above). And, as a member and strong supporter of the NPCA, he spoke to the group resources and opportunities, from WorldView magazine to assistance with the Encore Service Corps International Program.
While John noted that a number of RPCVs from Beaumont leave and settle in Houston or elsewhere, Raymond Palko is a recent arrival. A transplant from the Philadelphia suburbs in New Jersey, Raymond served with Carol in Zambia. He is currently pursuing his Masters Degree at Lamar University, and applies his Peace Corps experiences regularly in addressing poverty in an eight county area through his work at the Southeast Texas Food Bank.
While they served in different eras and pursue different career paths, the views of all attendees were perhaps summed up by Uganda RPCV Victoria Outlaw: “(Peace Corps) was the best experience of my life.” Reflecting on that shared experience also prompted a discussion of staying connected. Another gathering in the fall, perhaps…maybe an educational or recruitment event at Lamar. Staying connected. Staying informed. Staying engaged.
Three more stops in our Texas swing remain! Thursday in the northern suburbs of Houston, Friday in College Station and Saturday in Dallas. Follow this link for more details.