Why the Peace Corps Should Mean More to Dallas

People Newspapers reporter Claire St. Amant is a former Peace Corps volunteer. She contributes this essay about the importance of the organization:

As the Peace Corps turns 50 today, there’s little time to savor the moment. While those inside the organization are celebrating, outsiders are questioning its relevance–if they’re even familiar with it at all.

Dallas is surely home to many a returned volunteer. But you’d never know it.

As the third most charitable city in America (and one with patriotism aplenty) this is an ideal place for Peace Corps advocacy. Dallas ISD should invite returned volunteers to speak in classrooms, and pair with current volunteers in the already established exchange program, World Wise Schools. How is it that Dallas is home to the John F. Kennedy Learning Center and a Peace Corps regional office but lacks any real awareness of the agency?

Kennedy lost his life in our city. His dream for the Peace Corps shouldn’t die here, too.

We need to utilize our vibrant, forward-thinking city to educate and recruit in every level of schooling and profession.

When I taught English in western Ukraine, I regularly informed people about the mission and history of the Peace Corps. This didn’t bother me, as I was the first volunteer to be assigned to this village. But when I came home to my native land, from which the Peace Corps originated, I expected a more educated populous.

No such luck.

For a program that’s been around half a century, you’d think more people would know about it. But those in the same age range of the corps seem to have the least understanding of it. Happy with their initial impressions of recent college grads building wells in Africa, they’ve put it out of mind. More than 200,000 Americans have served in 139 countries, yet the only lasting image of the corps is from the initial programs in the ’60s.

Texas is actually a fair producer of Peace Corps volunteers, ranking in the top 10 states historically. However instead of capitalizing on a returned volunteer base of more than 6,000, the Peace Corps allowed them to slip under the radar in professions all across our fair state.

This is not only Dallas’ fault. Peace Corps marketing efforts have traditionally been abysmal. Not long after Kennedy’s impassioned speech, detractors developed terms like “kiddie corps” and labeled the organization a place for draft dodgers and pot smokers. The Peace Corps has yet to debunk these myths in any tangible way. Most people believe all you have to do to join is sign on the dotted line.

In actuality, the application process, in which only about 20 percent of candidates are accepted, lasts a year. A college degree or three to five years of work experience in a relevant field is required, as are multiple interviews, medical exams, and psychological evaluations. It’s not exactly a hippie’s dream job, unless that dream is to fill out mounds of paperwork and submit to a federal background check.

Just as a person approaching 50 reevaluates his life, so too must the Peace Corps. This isn’t the end.

It’s merely a mid-life crisis.

Hopefully, the Peace Corps has a lot more than 50 years left to work with. But its ability to effectively communicate its mission will be what defines its lifespan. I’m tired of having to spout the basic goals of an organization twice my age.

If the Peace Corps ever wants to celebrate its 100 year anniversary, it should make a concerted effort to increase its reputation. There’s no better place to start than Dallas.

18 comments on “Why the Peace Corps Should Mean More to Dallas

  1. excellent essay. thanks for this. I keep hearing second hand accounts of how difficult it is to be selected for Peace Corps now. With the current economy lots of graduates are choosing Americorps, Peace Corps and other things to gains some experience and give back.

    I think about the year my dad did in the CCC, building parks. I think it was a win win experience.

    thanks for this really nice essay.

  2. Nice remarks – My husband and I served in the Peace Corps in 2000 in the former Soviet Union, working in the medical field. Not an easy job – and certainly not a job for people who aren’t ready and willing to be significantly challenged in ways beyond the imagination.

  3. I seriously considered the Peace Corps when I graduated college, but was afraid I’d be stuck somewhere far away when my grandfather passed.

    Dallas should definitely have more respect for the Peace Corps and encourage its youth to join.

  4. As unpopular of a sentiment as it is, religious organizations/denominations dwarf the impact of the peace corps. From infrastructure improvements, medical procedures and social welfare….these organizations do so without asking for a dime of taxpayer money. These zealots do so because their creator charged them to. Pardon me if I dont join the handwringing.

  5. @neitherparty, interesting sentiment. What evidence do you have that religious organizations dwarf the impact of Peace Corps? I’ve never seen research in either direction and think this is worth knowing more about.
    The religious organizations I’ve participated in have in fact used government funding to support their efforts. I never saw this as a negative. In fact, I thought it important that the government support efforts to improve human lives since I thought many tax payers want their money to do good.

  6. I served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone from 1963-1966. About 60 other returned volunteers and I are sharing photos of our Peace Corps experiences in an exhibition here in Dallas at the Latino Cultural Center from March 10 – April 29. Admission is free.

    I am 71 years old, and I still do not take running water for granted.

  7. @a If you participate in a religious organization that gets federal funding, you are not at a church, temple or mosque.
    If you really don’t think religious entities dwarf the peace corps…carry on.
    As a taxpayer, I want my taxes to go to a very few tasks that government dies well ( outside of military, can’t think of much else).
    I am not anti peace corps as it exists now, but I am not down with the trial balloons of expanding it greatly as has been suggested by those around this administration. The most good for people in dire situations is to keep the deductions whole for charities…another thing this president looks at.

  8. Neitherparty has it down pat. The way to help people in need is to hand them some aid and then insult them with a dose of religion.

    Of course these are usually the same relgious folks having snot slinging fits about a mosque going up in New York.

  9. Neitherparty, do you REALLY think that the US government does the military well? That the military isn’t riddled with waste and bloat? And earmarks? And corruption? BILLIONS of dollars IN CASH disappear from the military every year, most recently to corrupt government officials and warlords in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    I urge you to read more on this important topic.

  10. That’s funny, Neitherparty, wrote “government dies well”…freudian slip, possibly???

  11. Harvey, I love that web site. AND…if you’re looking for 8000 of those plastic shopping bags, just head on down to the fence at the corner of Westmoreland and Clarendon, across the street from Walgreen’s. They’re all yours: all 10,000 of them!

  12. Harvey, check with Central Market and possibly other grocery stores that have recycling bins for plastic bags; they may be willing to give them to you.

  13. Granny and Beda, right now as we speak there are thousands of folks that have the plastic bags stuffed in their garage because throwing them into the trash just goes against their grain. I want those people to share those bags with us because they can do a good thing with a bad thing.

    In a couple of weeks the recycled plastic block thing is going to go places I could only dream about four months ago.

    I need the bags and I refuse to go buy them, principles.