Ana Victoria Cruz posted an articleA Volunteer on his first experience organizing meetings with Congress to advocate for Peace Corps see more
A Volunteer evacuated from Mongolia on work to help members of Congress understand the value of Peace Corps service — and what they can do to help
By Daniel Lang
The summer of 2019 I was training to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia. More politically involved peers raised concerns that we should not take for granted that legislators would continue to fund the Peace Corps; more than 100 members of the House voted to defund it. That fall I swore in as a Volunteer and a close friend, Austin Frenes, began service in China. We both received assignments as university English instructors.
In January 2020, Austin learned his cohort would be China’s last; the program would, in Peace Corps terms, graduate. Mongolia began to restrict travel amid a preemptive quarantine. Peace Corps China consolidated in Thailand — then ended. In February, Peace Corps Mongolia evacuated; we were put on administrative hold. A week later, home in Nevada, I got word that our service was closing. I’m waiting to hear when we might reinstate.
I wasn’t looking for a leadership role in organizing meetings with members of Congress. I had no experience as a citizen lobbyist. But in August I saw a call to action email from National Peace Corps Association asking me to do exactly that, as part of a “virtual district office initiative.” I attended a webinar and learned NPCA had no documented meetings of returned Volunteers with Nevada’s congresspeople. I knew our legislators could do more to support Peace Corps.
The possibility of making important contributions like this are why, we said, it was important for Peace Corps to both become better and to redeploy.
NPCA’s Advocacy Director Jonathan Pearson helped me to decide which lawmakers to meet with. He put me in touch with other Nevada RPCVs whose service spanned continents and decades. They were strangers to me personally, but we had that common bond as Volunteers. They also echoed advice I had heard in training: We might not know the greatest impact of our service for years to come.
Earlier in the summer I had shared a story of my Peace Corps service with a high school classmate. Through her, we were able to arrange a Zoom call with the staff of my congressman, Steven Horsford (D-NV) in September. On the call were fellow Volunteers Alexis Zickafoose (Georgia, 2018-20), Alan Klawitter (Liberia, 1975-77), Taj Ainlay (Malaysia, 1973-75) and Kathleen DeVleming (Ethiopia, 1972-74). Alexis was just finishing her second year of service when she was evacuated. Alan and Taj shared stories of their service and the impacts of Peace Corps over the years — reasons why we were asking our representative to support H.R. 3456, the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act introduced by RPCV Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA), and H.R. 6833, the Utilizing and Supporting Evacuated Peace Corps Volunteers Act introduced by Rep. Dean Phillips (D-MN).
RPCVs in the Show Me State: A district meeting with staff from U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) included Kirsty Morgan (Kazakhstan 1998–2000), Erin Robinson (South Africa 2005–07), Don Spiers (Venezuela 1973–75), Joseph O’Sullivan (Brazil 1973–75), Amy Morros (Mali 1996–98), and Mia Richardson (North Macedonia 2018–20), founder of RPCVs Serving at Home. Photo by Amy Morros
Kathleen raised points about the skill sets of many Volunteers, and the importance of legislation aimed at putting RPCVs to work to help combat the pandemic here at home. She spoke about the work that her husband, John DeVleming, had done to eradicate smallpox in Ethiopia while serving as a Volunteer and working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The possibility of making important contributions like this are why, we said, it was important for Peace Corps to both become better and to redeploy.
I realized a few things from this experience. This work is all in our Third Goal — helping Americans, including our representatives and senators in Congress, better understand the world. It’s also part of showing openness, adaptability, and flexibility. And serving as a citizen lobbyist at home is much like engaging in citizen diplomacy abroad.
Ultimately, all U.S. citizens can contact our leaders — or, should I say, our public servants. I know we’re all called to act in different hours. I felt this as my hour. I hope you consider this, too. Let’s help make sure that Peace Corps endures as something even better than it has been.
As of press time, RPCV advocates have organized 30 virtual district office meetings across 16 states, with dozens of additional meetings being sought. Make plans to participate in our next round of district meetings, coming in March 2021 during our annual National Days of Action.
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Build your skill set and be an essential NPCA community leader see more
With more than fifty district office advocacy meetings being held or scheduled around the country, volunteer advocacy coordinators are playing a key a role in reaching out to district offices, recruiting local RPCV advocates, and coordinating with NPCA staff in Washington.
Next week, members of the South Florida Returned Peace Corps Volunteers will be meeting with district office staff of Senator Rick Scott to discuss their reasons for opposing the senator's legislation to put an end to the independent status of the Peace Corps. The group's advocacy coordinator, Ana Ciereszko, is finalizing preparations for that meeting.
In central Massachusetts, advocacy coordinator Tim Garvin is preparing for some one-on-one time with House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-MA) at an upcoming gathering.
Three weeks ago, central Wisconsin advocacy coordinator Judy Figi met with freshman Congressman Bryan Steil (R-WI) to help introduce him to key issues of the Peace Corps community.
And, at a recent town hall meeting in Fort Wayne, advocacy coordinator Faith Van Gilder questioned Congressman Jim Banks (R-IN) about his support of the defeated Walker amendment, which among other things, called for eliminating Peace Corps funding in fiscal year 2020.
Sign Up Today!
You can become an NPCA advocacy coordinator. No prior experience is necessary. All you need is a passion for the Peace Corps, a willingness to learn some basics about successful citizen-lobbying, and a commitment to a little community organization within your regional/statewide Peace Corps community.
Interested? Contact NPCA Advocacy Director Jonathan Pearson at email@example.com for more details, including plans for an advocacy coordinator introductory webinar later this year!
Come to Capitol Hill for Health Justice Awareness Day - June 22 see more
We are very proud of the hard work and commitment of our NPCA Volunteer Advocacy Coordinators – who are the key conduits between NPCA advocacy staff and our community at large. As we approach our third annual Health Justice Awareness Day, we are featuring Louisiana Advocacy Coordinator Kendra LeSar (Honduras 2007-09), who will be on Capitol Hill on June 22 to advocate for critical Peace Corps health care legislation, something she cares about from both a professional and personal perspective.
Best of Both Worlds
When Kendra graduated from college, she faced a decision that many face. Peace Corps or graduate school? “When I found the Master's International program at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine it seemed like the best of both. I was assigned to work with two government-run health centers in eastern Honduras where I taught reproductive health, HIV prevention, and nutrition classes.”
Kendra’s main assignment ended turned out to be teaching 5th grade sex education at a public elementary school. “I loved it and have worked in school health ever since.”
Making Advocacy Personal
As an experienced advocate who has engaged at both the national and state level, Kendra is coming to Washington because she knows the most effective advocacy goes beyond a phone click.
“I think that participating in our democracy is critical. While emails and phone calls are useful, showing up and speaking to elected officials and their staff can have a huge impact on their consideration of issues.”
And, when it comes to Peace Corps post-service health care, Kendra’s personal experience is like that of many others. “I am coming to share my personal experience as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who is proud to have served my country but who also faced challenges accessing care for service-related injuries when I came home. I hope to speak with elected officials from Louisiana to tell them how important the Peace Corps is and how difficult it can be, under the current system, for volunteers to receive the health care that they need.”
Progress on Multiple Fronts
As the Advocacy Coordinator with the Louisiana Peace Corps Association, Kendra says she is seeing increased interest in advocacy for Peace Corps and many other issues. “Our campaign to contact elected officials in March led to (Congressman) Cedric Richmond signing on to the Peace Corps funding Dear Colleague letter for the first time. It's exciting to see our efforts pay off!”
At the same time, Kendra notes that being an advocate for the Peace Corps goes beyond funding. “Funding is obviously essential to keep the Peace Corps operating, but to truly support the current, future, and returned volunteers we need to advocate for policies to improve the agency. As a public health professional, I think it is critical to ensure that all volunteers have access to the health services they need both while they are serving and when they return home.”
There is still time to join Kendra on Capitol Hill on June 22nd, but you need to register here by our Sunday, June 18th deadline.
And, if you can’t join us on Capitol Hill, set aside time and make plans to take action on June 22nd during our Health Justice Awareness Day.
Our January featured advocates are preparing for the upcoming National Days of Action see more
As we prepare to blanket the nation in early March with district office meetings and other localized advocacy activities during the National Peace Corps Association's National Days of Action, featured advocates Faith and David Van Gilder will be amplifying our advocacy presence - as they have for the past several years - in northeastern Indiana.
"It's crucial that Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) make their voice heard at this key time of the year," said Faith, noting that March 1st marks the anniversary of President Kennedy's Executive Order which established the Peace Corps. "Elected officials need to hear from as many RPCVs as possible, especially now during the presidential transition and change of administration."
The Van Gilders take action in a variety of ways, including organizing letter writing gatherings. "Our gatherings in northeast Indiana are typically social, but sending letters to our elected officials gives us a tangible task that we can rally around and discuss," said David, adding that the new NPCA click-and-send software makes it easy and quick to send letters, with as much personalization as an individual chooses to make.
Preparing for March
They are also starting now to organize March district office meetings with their congressional representatives. The Van Gilders note that many members of Congress and their staff have large districts and may only be in a local office on particular days, limiting scheduling opportunities. And, when it comes to district meetings, David says the number of participants doesn't have to be great in number, especially if the group thinks strategically. "Arrange for no more than two or three RPCVs to attend, keeping in mind diversity. Do your research beforehand and learn your legislator's background, such as hometown, alma mater, family and hobbies." As an example, the Van Gilders note their new member of Congress served in the National Guard in Afghanistan. They are hoping to bring an RPCV who served in Afghanistan to their meeting.
While David and Faith experienced some differences between meetings that take place on Capitol Hill compared to back in the district, there are a number of similarities. "In both types of meetings, make sure you ask a staffer to take a photo," said Faith. "Then, share it on social media and tag the legislator. Be sure to dress professionally, arrive on time, share a personal story and emphasize the talking points supplied by the NPCA."
Advocates for the Next Generation
Why are these Indiana advocacy coordinators, these featured advocates, so generous with their time and driven to the cause? Faith and David say it's about giving back. "Serving in the Peace Corps (in Botswana in the mid 1980's) was one of the highlights of our life, and we hope thousands more Americans will be able to serve their country in a peaceful way. Our main goal as advocates is to ensure funding is adequate to keep the Peace Corps strong and relevant for many years to come!"
Our congratulations to Richard MacIntyre (South Korea 1967-69) who will be honored September 22nd. see more
One the most important parts of Peace Corps Connect is to honor some of the great leaders of the Peace Corps community. Throughout the five days of activities, a variety of awards will recognize affiliate groups, global humanitarians, authors, international leaders and more.
This year there will be a new award to recognize the support and achievements of an individual and/or affiliate group being honored for outstanding work to advance NPCA’s impactful advocacy program.
The winner of our Advocate of the Year Award is Richard MacIntyre (South Korea 1967-69). Richard, who will be joining NPCA for Capitol Hill Advocacy Day, has been a regular presence at such events, advocating for the Peace Corps and mentoring new participants. In the early years of NPCA’s annual National Day of Action (which will mark its 13th year next March), Richard also spent dozens of hours volunteering to help prepare and improve our program.
With Peace Corps connections in a number of states, Richard has been energetic across the past decade in promoting and building our advocacy presence. This includes outreach to friends and contacts in central Pennsylvania and Delaware, and – most notably – Maine. One of NPCA’s early advocacy coordinators (representing Maine), Richard not only helped strengthen advocacy activity in that state, he also was involved in efforts to recently revitalize the Maine RPCVs affiliate group.
From engaging with other global coalitions in support of strong international affairs funding, to coordinating the placement of a traveling Friends of Korea photo exhibit in the Russell Senate Office Building in 2013, Richard has displayed versatility and passion in supporting advocacy efforts to strengthen and ensure the future of the Peace Corps.
NPCA’s Advocate of the Year Award will be presented to Richard during the September 22 Capitol Hill Advocacy Day.