FW: NPCA Situation
MessageFYI - A very interesting letter from John Coyne about the status of NPCA.
Elizabeth Bell, MPH
STOP Activity Unit
Polio Eradication Branch
Global Immunization Division
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
From: Jim Sheahan [mailto:jim.sheahan@...]
Sent: Thursday, August 14, 2003 3:22 PM
Subject: Fw: A Modest Proposal
In the event that you haven't seen the message below, I'm forwarding it to you. I believe John Coyne makes a good case for revitalizing the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA).
It should be a strong and vibrant force spreading word about the Peace Corps and promoting the third goal, which many people forget, of bringing the world back home. This is a critical time in history and I think we need to support the new NPCA president, Kevin Delaney, in whatever way we can collectively or individually.
If there ever was a need for the Peace Corps in the world, it's now. Our image abroad is at an all time low according to most sources overseas. Friends and neighbors who have been traveling in Europe and elsewhere recently report that same attitude. The Peace Corps has been and continues to be a positive force our country has in countering this negative impression. Let's get behind the NPCA and support its growth.
I hope you agree that a concerted effort in reinvigorating the NPCA is really worthwhile.
----- Original Message -----
From: John Coyne
August 13, 2003
On the first weekend of August I attended the Annual General Meeting of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) in sunny bright Portland, Oregon. Peace Corps Writers held two workshops on Peace Corps writing, presented a reading by Sarah Erdman, who served in Cote d'Ivoire, from her wonderful new book, Nine Hills to Nambonkaha: Two Years in the Heart of an African Village, and announced the winners of the Peace Corps Writers books awards of 2003. About 225 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) attended this weekend conference, which was also the annual meeting of the NPCA and featured a farewell dinner for the outgoing President and CEO of the NPCA, Dane Smith, and the introduction of Kevin Quigley, the new president of our alumnae group. Kevin was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Thailand from 1976-79.
The purpose of this email is to ask for your help in 'saving' the NPCA by helping Kevin Quigley and the NPCA. I believe strongly that the organization needs a new vision and a new direction, and that if we don't help the NPCA now it will slip away into history.
But first, a little history.
The first RPCV Conference
The first RPCV Conference I attended was in 1965, held at the U.S. State Department, less than a year after I returned from Ethiopia. At the time only 3,000 Volunteers had returned from the developing world. The Conference, which was put on by the Peace Corps, was called "Citizens in a Time of Change" and was held on the weekend of March 1, the organization's fourth anniversary. Its purpose was to discuss the RPCVs' role in national life. At the time, President Johnson was building a "Great Society" and declared that "a Great Society requires first of all Great Citizens, and the Peace Corps is a world-wide training school for Great Citizens."
There were lots of misgivings among the Peace Corps staff in Washington about convening RPCVs in Washington. They knew Volunteers had come home with critical opinions about American's role in the world, the agency itself, and the Vietnam War. Many conservative PC/Washington types thought that inviting RPCVs to Washington to "sound off" within the hearing distance of Congress and the national news media was asking for trouble.
Peace Corps Director Sargent Shriver, naturally, had greater faith in RPCVs. He believed the Peace Corps agency could "learn from the Volunteers' reflections after they had been home for a while."
So we came to Washington. In fact, over a thousand of the 3,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers came to Foggy Bottom and the State Department to meet with over 250 leaders of American society. Everyone who was there will long remember Vice-President Humphrey linking arms with Harry Belafonte, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Shriver, and all the RPCVs to sing "We Shall Overcome" in the stately State Department auditorium. That night Humphrey urged us to get involved. "You don't really have to save the world," he told us, "just start saving the hometown."
We left D.C. thinking we could do both.
The 20th Reunion at Howard University
On the 20th anniversary of the Peace Corps, the Washington, D.C. RPCV group organized a weekend gathering at Howard University that was a great celebration of the early years of the agency and featured a stirring speech by Shriver and the introduction of the new Peace Corps Director, Loret Miller Ruppe who proved over time, (in spite of her limited overseas experience) to be a worthy director.
The 25th Anniversary Celebration
The largest gathering of RPCVs ever took place in 1986 when 5000 of us again went to Washington, D.C. where the 25th anniversary of the Peace Corps was celebrated inside the largest tent ever raised on The Mall, at the foot of the Capitol Dome and adjacent to the Air and Space Museum.
The 25th Anniversary Celebration was the idea of RPCV Bill Carey, and four RPCV groups who came together under one banner to host an event which made headline news across the country, a great gathering of the "clan."
Once again staffers at the Peace Corps agency were against the gathering, fearing that RPCVs would march on President Reagan's White House. However, when Loret Ruppe realized it was going to happen whether she liked it or not, she elbowed her way into the planning and staged a show on Sunday evening at the Kennedy Center when once again Harry Belafonte led the 'clan' in singing "We Shall Overcome." Earlier that Sunday Loret joined with Shriver, Moyers, and all of us at Arlington Cemetery for a moving memorial service honoring the Volunteers who had died in service.
The founding of the NCRPCV
After the success of that wonderful weekend, those four groups of RPCVs established the National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (NCRPCV). Roger Landrum, a major force in creating the Conference, called for RPCVs to unite behind this new national forum. "If 10,000 of you will join the National Council," he told us, "we'll have a sustainable financial base. We can hire a staff, rent an office, and build a solid organization to develop our programs."
Close to 16,000 of the Peace Corps community of RPCVs and staff, numbering around 120,000 at that time, did join together in those happy days after the gathering on the Mall. Many of us believed that a forceful alumni group of RPCVs would, as Sargent Shriver urged us, "Work at home as you have worked abroad, humbly, persistently, intelligently."
The National Council of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers did have great dreams-publish a magazine that would tell about the world from an RPCV perspective, aid teachers in teaching about the developing world, pursue peace initiates, and build a network of RPCV groups across the country.
In time, the NCRPCV changed its name to the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA). The organization has hosted conferences every year--in Eugene, Oregon (where the best Conference ever was held), in Kent State, back in Washington, D.C. and almost everywhere in between. Next year, in 2004, the conference will be held in Chicago. That is, if there is a next year, and if there is an NPCA.
And that is the real point of this email.
At the moment RPCVs have a membership organization without many members. The NPCA as an organization has slipped downhill since it began as a grass roots movement, one that briefly flowered, and is now, (to mix up all my metaphors), withering on the vine.
What has happened since those glory days of 1965? Then President Johnson wrote to the Vice President saying, "The Peace Corps has made history," and called RPCVs "a major new national resource."
Last year, at the 40+1 Anniversary of the agency less than 1,000 RPCVs (out of some 200,000 RPCVs and Staff) traveled to D.C. for the NPCA reunion. As an aging '60s Volunteer myself, I was stuck by the lack of young faces and new voices from the newest generations of RPCVs. Is the NPCA not providing appropriate services for the RPCVs to attract them to join the organization? What gives?
RPCVs continue to--using Sarge's words---"serve, serve, serve." It is impressive to read what some RPCVs are doing as individuals--without the help or need of an NPCA--to serve the RPCV community. A couple of quick examples--Collin Tong (Thailand 1968-69) raised $40,000 from other RPCVs in a few weeks to run two ads in the New York Times urging a peaceful resolution to the crisis with Iraq; Hugh Pickens (Peru 1971-73) has PeaceCorpsOnline.org which covers news, advocacy, and plenty of resources, and sends notice of new articles monthly to more than 35,000 RPCVs; Marian Haley Beil (Ethiopia 1962-64) and I have published since 1989 a newsletter and now a bimonthly ezine - PeaceCorpsWriters.org -that promotes, encourages, and recognizes RPCVs doing a Third Goal activity with incredible impact-writing about their countries and their experience.
So why join the NPCA? What good does it do? What good does it do if you have such good people as Collin Tong and others doing the job themselves?
At the local level, at home, associating with a group in big cities like New York or San Francisco offers RPCVs a community of friends who shared a special experience and give RPCVs a chance to show their slides and sing their songs. Besides gathering for Ethiopian or Thai food, many of these local groups are doing valuable volunteer work in their communities. They are all impressive. But most of the members of these groups do not belong to the NPCA. Similar strength can be found in the RPCV groups formed around countries of service-and most of the members of these groups do not belong to the NPCA either.
So why hasn't the national organization made a difference?
Sixteen years after it was launched, the organization is in serious financial trouble, with a debt of some $100,000.
None of this is new to anyone who has watched the NPCA grow and falter and keep struggling through the years. Here's an organization that started on a shoestring--but the string has frayed. Through the years Tim Carroll, Lyn Gray, Chic Dambach, Dane Smith, and now, Kevin Quigley have worked to grow it in various ways. While we now have a network for teachers, Worldview magazine, 3/1/61 newsletter, advocacy efforts, and a few other national programs, the national organization limps along with a paying membership of around 11,000 out of a Peace Corps world of 200,000 plus.
Why is that? Why are there so few members at the national level?
An easy answer
It's an easy answer. The NPCA does not (and you can pick any descriptive word): support, connect, relate, defend, help, assist, network, or promote individual RPCVs.
The NPCA might look good on paper, and it can spin the accomplishments of individual members, but the NPCA is an empty suit. And as a lobbying group, we are not a factor inside the beltway or in the country.
The reason we are not a "factor" is because we don't take any position as a group on any issue, or if we take a position it sounds like we're kindergarten kids, the recent statement on Iraq is a case in point. An organization that tries to embrace all the views of all the members is an organization that stands for nothing.
How then do we make the NPCA effective? How do we save it?
In the following ways:
- Support PCVs and RPCVs in their individual needs, defending them against the Peace Corps when necessary;
- Retire the outstanding debt so Kevin Quigley has a chance to grow the NPCA. Contribute any among from $10 to $100 (or more), sending the check directly to Kevin and made out to the "NPCA";
- Groups and locale organizations, those 'deep pockets' RPCVs, should contribute much more--1k or 2k or 5k--as individuals and groups will suffer if the national group dissolves;
- The NPCA must become an active overseer of the Peace Corps, not a wishy-washy group afraid to take stands against appointments and policies;
- Re-focus Wordview Magazine so that it is for and about PCVs and RPCVs, not what it cannot be, "a major voice in this country about the developing world in this country";
- Re-design the RPCV website so that it is an interactive tool used by PCVs overseas and RPCVs here at home;
- Reduce the membership fee to $40;
- Change the function of the Board so that it is manageable;
- Create a Board that is financially able to support the NPCA, either personally or by fundraising, the way that most non-profits function;
- Require that all members of local groups also be members of the national organization;
- Eliminate the "free membership" of new RPCVs and seek ways to enroll PCVs while they are overseas, providing them a password to the website where they will get assistance from the NPCA, as well as career and graduate schools information;
- Hire a Career Counseling Staff person available for RPCVs as well as PCV;
- Develop an 'Associate' NPCA membership for the parents of PCVs--When an individual joins the Peace Corps, so does his/her family;
- Go into business with an international travel agency to provide useful travel assistance to RPCVs and families who wish to visit their children overseas;
- Create opportunities at the local level for Congress people to receive recognition from the NPCA for their support of the Peace Corps, ensuring that they recognize and realize that we are all voters.
These are just a few suggestions to turn the NPCA into a membership organization that is for members. Many RPCVs have expressed these and similar ideas for the organization. And I am sure there are more good ideas in the country that need to be voiced.
The previous leadership of the NPCA has spent time and energy trying to wrestling with "worldly" problems, i.e., going to Israel to "examine the relevance of NPCA peace-building experience to the polarized situation between Israelis and Palestinians" instead of using that energy to build and organization with members who themselves will be empowered to pursue such activities.
Let's forget for the moment about being players on the "world stage" and concentrate on developing a "membership" organization that (1) defends Volunteers; (2) performs oversight of the Peace Corps itself; and (3) supports the volunteer work being done by RPCVs here at home.
Let's give Kevin Quigley and his staff a chance to build the NPCA. Begin by contributing money to retire the $100,000 debt. Give Kevin the breathing room needed to expand the NPCA into a true membership organization that provides services to its members. If all 11,000 members contributed, the NPCA debt can be erased.
Thank you for reading all of this. I am sending this email on my own, as someone who believes that RPCVs need a membership organization, and as someone who since 1964 has been working to promote the Peace Corps and RPCVs. I ask that you send Kevin a check today. I also ask if you would be kind enough to forward this email onto your network of RPCVs; many are not members of the National Peace Corps Association-ask them to join--as we have something of value in the Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Community and we need to use it. Let's save the NPCA, and then we can save the world.
Again, thank you for reading all of this.
Kevin's Address is:
1900 L Street NW