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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National Peace Corps Association Operations posted an articleTwo reasons the Kansas City Area Peace Corps Association's logo includes a heart? Find out why see more
Making direct connections with other nearby National Peace Corps affiliate groups. Sustaining the group, yet being ready to expand activities when the right volunteer leader comes along. Those two practices have helped ensure the stability of the Kansas City Area Peace Corps Association, our featured NPCA group for the month of October.
Name of Group: Kansas City Area Peace Corps Association (KCAPCA)
Three words that best describe your group:
Friendly, service-minded, supportive
What makes your group successful?
The group is very laid-back and welcoming of others. It is very much a community of friends who enjoy seeing each other on a monthly basis. We have a strong and active Board that meets monthly to orchestrate opportunities for our membership to socialize, network, give back to the community, share their Peace Corps experience, promote the Peace Corps and advocate for a bigger and better Peace Corps.
What geographic area does your group cover?
Our group covers the Greater Kansas City Area, which includes suburbs in Kansas and Missouri. We also are the Affiliate Group for Lawrence, KS, which has a campus-based recruiter at the University of Kansas.
Give a brief summary of your group’s history.
The Kansas City group was formed sometime prior to 1990, when a recruiting office was located in Kansas City. After 1990, the Kansas City Area Peace Corps Association became an affiliate member group of the NPCA (then called the National Council of RPCVs). From the beginning, the group was interested in community service and social activities, such as potluck parties. Over the past few years, the group has added Third Goal, recruitment, advocacy- related and has even helped raise funds for an educational project of a currently serving PCV from Kansas City.
What is the best thing your group has done in the past year?
The best thing our group has done in the past year has been forming closer ties with the three other Missouri Affiliate groups. In the summer of 2015, the boards of the three largest MO groups, the Kansas City Area Peace Corps Association, the Central Missouri RPCVs, and the St. Louis Peace Corps Association met for a Leadership Summit to discuss how to work more closely together. The Memorial Day Weekend Ozarks Campout was the first joint activity and there will be a Fall Camping Weekend on the Ozarks later this month for all statewide RPCV groups. Not only is it fun to get together, but we support each other’s activities. For example, members of the St. Louis and KC groups attended the Central MO RPCV’s Third Goal Film Festival last April, and the Central MO RPCV group provides funds to support an educational project of one of our PCV members serving in Thailand.
What is a key skill/activity/resource that you can offer to other NPCA Affiliate Groups?
We can offer up some advice. Do not worry if you need to start small with only a few events/activities- you can work your way up. Do not try to do too much in a short period. Our group historically had not had an advocacy program, as there was never enough time or energy. When the right person joined the board a year ago, we were then able to incorporate advocacy into our activities, starting with local, district meetings. Our Advocacy Coordinator kept the group informed and up to date on issues through Facebook posts and newsletter contributions. This past September, three Board members participated in the Advocacy Day on the Hill. It was a major milestone to have so much representation after years of the group not being politically active.
Are there any key challenges or needs that your group faces and could use some help?
We could use support in enticing more leaders to help run the group and to widen our number of active group members. We also would like to support a Speaker’s Bureau, so we can match more members with Third Goal presentation opportunities.
Are there any monthly/annual activities that you conduct?
Our main monthly social activities are First Monday Happy Hour always at the same spot, McCoy’s Pub in a central location in Kansas City, and Third Thursday Dinner, where we meet at a different ethnic restaurant each month.
Our signature Third Goal event is our annual Open House, which is open to the public. Every spring we meet at the Writer’s Place House for food and drinks, world music, country displays, socializing and various Third Goal presentations about life as a Peace Corps Volunteers in developing countries.
Every quarter we participate in community service activities, such as with the Johnson County Christmas Bureau, Ronald McDonald House, Harvester Food Bank, Habitat for Humanity and After the Harvest
And two or three times a year there is a potluck party for RPCVs, which includes Peace Corps recruiters, and often sends-offs for departing KCAPCA members who will be beginning their Peace Corps service.
Our group also participates in recruitment festivals and events in partnership with our KS, MO, and university based Peace Corps Recruiters.
Why is your group affiliated with the National Peace Corps Association?
Even though our group has been affiliated with NPCA since 1990, the current NPCA emphasis on helping Affiliate Groups thrive has helped shape the direction and goals of the currently serving KCAPCA Board. The NPCA has provided much leadership support and encouragement to our group leadership on an individual basis as well as skill and network building opportunities through the Purpose-Driven Group webinars and Annual Affiliate Group meetings. Not only is our group capacity supported, but also we agree strongly with NPCA’s emphasis on enlarging and improving the Peace Corps and making a difference at home and abroad through community-based funds and development initiatives.
Please share (briefly) the one thing RPCVs must do when they visit your city/region/state that exemplifies the spirit of Peace Corps service?
We are very proud of our joint representation with our Kansas and Missouri Peace Corps Recruiters at the annual Ethnic Enrichment Festival each August in Kansas City. The festival really celebrates the diversity and excitement of world cultures, and we feel that it is the perfect venue to promote Peace Corps service and to reach out to RPCVs.
What else should RPCVs know about your group?
Our logo depicts the Peace Corps logo enclosed in a heart, to symbolize Kansas City as “America’s Heartland.” Our group is certainly “heartfelt” in its interest in building community and genuinely interested in keeping the spirit of Peace Corps alive and well after service.
Thanks to Kirsty Morgan and other members of KCAPCA for providing this profile.
Get connected! There are over 155 NPCA member groups – geographic groups, country of service groups, and special interest groups. Find links to all of them on our website. Get involved with an affiliate group today!
Want your NPCA member group to be featured in the coming months? Contact us.