State Department Employees Celebrate Peace Corps Week

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President Kennedy greets Peace Corps Volunteers on August 9, 1962.
President Kennedy greets Peace Corps Volunteers on August 9, 1962.

State Department Employees Celebrate Peace Corps Week

The Department of State and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers at State (RPCVs@State) pay tribute to President Kennedy’s establishment of the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961.  John F. Kennedy’s legacy inspired generations of Americans to serve their country.  Since 1961, more than 230,000 Peace Corps Volunteers have answered the call to service. These dedicated Americans have worked with people in 141 countries to foster world peace and make lasting changes in health, education, economic development, agriculture, environment, and youth development.

For many Peace Corps volunteers, the commitment to volunteer and desire to serve does not stop with their Peace Corps service. Many RPCVs live by President Kennedy's  exemplary quote, “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” For the 2018 Peace Corps Week celebration and an ongoing effort to celebrate the one-hundredth birthday of John F. Kennedy, RPCVs@state has chosen to highlight RPCVs who have continued their dedication to serving the American people as employees of the U.S. Department of State.  

Read some of their stories:

John Fer, Peace Corps Nepal – Regional Public Engagement Specialist, Bureau of International Information Programs

When I left the Air Force in 2003 to join the Peace Corps, many of my colleagues in both organizations saw the move as a radical change. They suspected that the switch in employers would bring a stereotypical change in my ideology and behavior. And to be honest, I too believed that to go from operating nuclear weapons in Wyoming to teaching English in rural Nepal would be a night and day difference; however, there were more similarities than I anticipated.  

‎Both experiences reinforced my calling to public service, and built in me an appreciation for organizations that support a culture of leadership. In the Air Force, for example, I was on alert during the attacks of 9/11, and without sound leadership, we could have gone from a heightened state of readiness to a posture that would have endangered the world. In the Peace Corps, I counted on leadership from our Country Director and his staff when, because of a Civil War, we were evacuated. 

At State, I’ve worked with colleagues (many of them veterans of the Armed Forces and Peace Corps) to try to build a grassroots culture of leadership, one in which employees at every level consider themselves to be leaders, and as such hold their leaders accountable to the core values of the organization. State’s Leadership and Management School (LMS) embodies this drive and continues to press forward every day. It’s a pleasant realization, after all, that the oaths one takes to enter the Air Force, the Peace Corps, and the Department of State are the same. 

Lauren Truss, Peace Corps Palau – Passport Specialist, Bureau of Consular Affairs

I served in the Republic of Palau 2009-2011 as an English as a Second Language (ESL) and Community Development Volunteer. One of my secondary projects was working with the local community to create a World Map mural in the elementary school cafeteria, which also served as a community center. Following service abroad, I served as an AmeriCorps volunteer as Economic Empowerment Coordinator for the International Rescue Committee in Charlottesville, Virginia from 2012 to 2013. Following that, I was a Paul D. Coverdell Fellow at the University of Arizona from 2014 to 2016 and completed a Masters of Public Administration with a concentration in Comparative National Security studies. My thesis work brought me to Lesvos, Greece, where I worked in refugee camps, Kara Tepe and Camp Moria. Currently, I am a Passport Specialist at the Western Passport Center (WPC) in Tucson, Arizona where I have worked for the past three years.

To celebrate last year’s Peace Corps events, I created a vision board for the front office to honor and celebrate the 16 RPCVs that work at WPC and developed professional development program. During the program, we started with a description of Peace Corps and had a facilitator-led panel of various RPCVs talk about their general experience. The audience was able to ask questions. Afterward, we split into groups and made sure each group had an RPCV. We handed out scenarios called Solve a World Problem with an RPCV, each based on situations that could arise when a volunteer first started their Peace Corps service. After some group brainstorming and discussion, we threw a realistic challenge into each scenario, for example, a natural disaster or an issue concerning community members, and let the groups discuss their plan of action. At the end, we went around the room and briefly presented on what each group would have done in real life if they were Peace Corps volunteers in those situations.

Fifty-six years after the first group of Peace Corps volunteers left for their host countries – RPCVs bring the experience home to promote understanding of other people on the part of Americans, one of the goals of the Peace Corps mission. Returned volunteers make an impact at home by taking on leadership roles in their community, and sharing their stories at work, open mic nights, in classrooms, retirement homes, community groups, through newspapers, and more.

About the Authors: Cara Conley serves in the Bureau of Public Affairs and Kourtni Gonzalez serves in the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Both are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers at the Department.

About RPCVs@StateReturned Peace Corps Volunteers @ State (RPCVs@State) is an employee organization and affinity group (EAG) comprised of former Peace Corps Volunteers and staff. Founded in September 2008, RPCVs@State has over 600 members in the Washington, DC area and around the world. The organization provides opportunities for members to network and engage in activities that strengthen both the Department and Peace Corps. In addition to hosting networking and social activities, the EAG organizes events that encourage RPCVs to consider careers at State. Both in Washington, DC and overseas, RPCVs@State provides practical ways for members to stay in touch with their Peace Corps roots.

 

Cara Conley
Kourtni Gonzalez