Peace Corps Connect 2012 in Minneapolis: The Recap
By Erica Burman on Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
“…this conference made me feel like I’d come home.”
“I left Minneapolis feeling inspired and regained a sense of purpose that I haven’t felt in a long while.”
“I really hoped to get a lot out of the weekend and I wasn’t disappointed.”
“I had a good time seeing old friends and reconnecting to what the NPCA is doing these days.”
These are just a few of the early comments we’ve gotten about Peace Corps Connect: Minneapolis 2012, our first of what will be annual gatherings of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) community.
Born out of National Peace Corps Association’s (NPCA) successful 50th anniversary events last fall, which drove home the point that there’s just nothing like getting a large group of RPCVs together in the same place, Peace Corps Connect: Minneapolis 2012 (or #PCCMN12, as it was known on Twitter) came together with a relatively short lead time. Nonetheless, over 200 RPCVs participated in the event, which ran from Friday, June 29 to Sunday, July 1 at the Convention Center in downtown Minneapolis, Minn.
Things got started with a very well-attended Opening Ceremony Luncheon. NPCA President Kevin Quigley welcomed RPCVs from around the country and introduced the first speaker, Peace Corps Chief of Staff Stacy Rhodes (Bolivia 68-70) (Read his speech here.) He was followed by outgoing NPCA board member Bruce McNamer (Paraguay), CEO of Technoserve, who spoke on how the creation of businesses by entrepreneurial men and women in developing countries is providing jobs, income and economic opportunity for communities. He also talked about the role that his Peace Corps experience played in his own career path, most notably coming away with “a weird comfort with ambiguity.” It was a point to which everyone in the room could relate.
Afterwards the weekend moved into a series of breakout sessions on a variety of topics, including: What next? Peace Corps Products into Businesses with RPCV Tim McCollum, How to start a non-profit with RPCV Brian Singer, Career Transitions with RPCV Louise Stenberg. Friends of Iran and Friends of Afghanistan and others held country update meetings.
Between sessions, RPCVs circulated through the Exhibit Hall, where booths from RPCV organizations, Peace Corps, World Wise Schools, universities, and the NPCA were located. Among those represented were the Farmer-to-Farmer program and (read their blog post about PCCMN12) and Colorado State’s Global and Sustainable Enterprise MBA (read their blog post about PCCMN12). NPCA board members were on hand to chat at a specially designated table. A steady flow of people stopped by the Next Step Travel booth, NPCA’s exciting new alumni service travel program, to learn about upcoming trips to Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
In the evening many RPCVs split off for small local meet-ups in the Minneapolis area. For example, the Friends of Nigeria had a Nigerian dinner attended by mostly Nigerian-Americans. Others joined members of NPCA’s Director’s Circle for a sunset cruise on the Mississippi River. As a special treat, Congresswoman Betty McCollum – a staunch Peace Corps supporter on Capitol Hill — joined us on board before we set sail. Noting her state’s strong Peace Corps connection (it was the home of another Peace Corps founder, Sen. Hubert Humphrey), she welcomed the RPCVs visit for the Annual Gathering. Rep. McCollum isn’t an RPCV – yet – but she does have four RPCVs on her staff and praised NPCA’s Advocacy Director Jonathan Pearson and the legions of RPCVs who have made their voices heard on the Hill during our Advocacy Days, in District Office meetings and through emails, letters, and calls. She strongly emphasized that having a presence on the Hill matters a great deal.
The breakout sessions continued early the next day: Election 2012/Advocacy with RPCV Ken Patterson (read “Minneapolis Advocacy Session Hits the Mark”), Youth Development with Ashoka Fellow Spectra Meyers, Alternative Methods with RPCV Patti Hurd, Agriculture with RPCV Florence Reed, Group Development and Leadership Succession with Dr. Steve V. Manderscheid and Music of the World – Minnesota with Fodé Seydou Bangoura. In the coming weeks we hope to have more detailed reports about some of these sessions, as we couldn’t be everywhere all at once! As one RPCV commented afterwards, “All very informative. I wish I could have gone to more of them.”
One session that we can report on is the Alternative Methods workshop, featuring a presentation by People Helping People, sponsor of the Solar Oven Society. The session was held in a park across the street from the Convention Center. Patti Hurd demonstrated the features of the solar cooker and proceeded to cook some carrots in the hot Minnesota sun. The oven was designed by 3M engineers with a goal of providing “low-cost, effective, durable, attractive solar ovens, education and training, to help families in sun-rich, fuel poor countries improve their health, time, nutritional, financial and environmental resources,” according to the session handout. There were lots of questions from the RPCV participants. And yes, the carrots were delicious!
The day concluded with a concert by the local group, Malamanya. They were superb and got RPCVs on their feet and dancing. Between sets, NPCA held an award ceremony to present the Sargent Shriver Humanitarian Award and the Loret Miller Ruppe Awards.
Sunday’s events rounded out the weekend. The NPCA Annual General Meeting was an opportunity for our community to hear reports on what NPCA is doing and plans to do in the coming year. In the Group Leaders Forum which followed, representatives of NPCA member groups had a chance to compare notes and exchange ideas about the various facets of running a member group.
And last but not least, the weekend concluded with a Peace Corps Third Goal Expo.
All in all, it was a great weekend! We hope even more people will join us next year for Peace Corps Connect: Boston 2013!
See photos from Minneapolis here.
Read a blog about Peace Corps Connect: Minneapolis 2012 by new NPCA Board member Wendy Lee here.