The Center for Civic Engagement and Leadership at Marist College builds on the College’s legacy of and commitment to volunteerism and offers students and faculty the opportunity to integrate community based teaching methods into schools and departments across campus. The Center has just begun the CCEL Facebook Campaign and blog to further connect with the students and to get them more excited about civic engagement. This new initiative will provide students with quick access to information about what is going on at the Center and other not-for-profit organizations, giving the students an opportunity to develop a combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation hence making a difference on the Marist campus and in the society as a whole.
One of the CCEL community partners is the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is a service opportunity for motivated change makers to immerse themselves in a community abroad, working side by side with local leaders to tackle the most pressing challenges of our generation (Peace Corps). The Peace Corps provides communities abroad with sustainable solutions by sharing America’s most precious resource—its people (Peace Corps). The Peace Corps is relevant to civic engagement and community based learning because the Peace Corps volunteers are change makers ready to partner with communities to make a difference (Peace Corps). The Peace Corps is a people-to-people public service and citizen diplomacy at the grassroots level (Peace Corps). Volunteers work to create solutions that address challenges in education, health, environment, community economic development, agriculture, and youth development which ultimately improves the quality of the people’s lives (Peace Corps).
After the Peace Corps volunteers’ service, they return home as global citizens with new perspectives. Pete Isaac is a 2005 graduate of James Madison University where he earned a BS in Integrated Science and Technology. He also received his M. Ed from the University of West Florida in College Student Personnel and Administration (Peace Corps). He was a Peace Corps volunteer for 33 months in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. During his service, he participated in organizational capacity building designed to support people living with special needs. He was also actively involved in multiple educational camps for the youth and he implemented a training program for Ukrainian artisans to sell their hand-made goods on Etsy.com (Peace Corps). He says that this, for him, was an amazing opportunity because he needed something new, something challenging, and something to test his personal and professional skills. Leaving Ukraine, he had learned more about himself and the world than he would have ever imagined and he was leaving a country he had come to know and treasure on the brink of a revolution. Upon his return to the USA, he began to feel like something was missing (Peace Corps). He says, “The fact that I really enjoyed being a Peace Corps Volunteer is not a secret. Working side by side, helping others improve their communities, seeing the passion and the fulfillment firsthand, all the while supporting others to achieve their dreams – that is what I missed and what I knew I wanted to go back to,” he says. This motivated him to apply for a second opportunity to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. He is currently serving in Rwanda since April 2016 for a period of 12 months. While there, he is serving as an Environmental Health Project Design, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist with Les Compagnons Fontainiers du Rwanda (COFORWA), an organization focusing primarily on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) extension projects (Peace Corps). Pete Isaac says that, “As Americans, it is easy to get wrapped up in our daily lives and domestic events and lose sight of what is going on elsewhere. However, the past few years have shown me that by being active, supportive, and engaged, we can have that impact so many of us in international development seek” (Peace Corps).
This information is important to Marist students who, just like Pete, might be interested in trying out something new and beneficial to communities after graduation. The experience consists of both giving and receiving, and the volunteers also gain a lot in return. Throughout service, the Peace Corps volunteers have regular opportunities to gain new skills related to work, language, culture, and safety (Peace Corps). Volunteers also get to enjoy financial, student loan, medical and dental, travel, career, and graduate school benefits. Graduate schools also recognize the valuable service experience returned Peace Corps volunteers bring to underserved communities at home (Peace Corps). The Paul D. Coverdell Fellows Program offers returned Peace Corps volunteers reduced tuition, assistantships, and stipends at more than ninety participating universities and colleges. As volunteers, students are eligible for certain student loan benefits including deferment during service, partial Perkins loan cancellation, income-driven repayment plans, and a federal forgiveness program (Peace Corps). Returned Peace Corps volunteers also possess cross-cultural, leadership, language, teaching, and community development skills that place them highly in demand by corporate, nonprofit, and government employers seeking candidates with these skills required in today’s global economy (Peace Corps). The Peace Corps enables their motivated volunteers to gain a lot of experience and learn new things while enabling them to be change makers immersed in communities abroad as they tackle the different challenges faced by this generation.
Conducting research about the Peace Corps and reading the different stories of current and returned volunteers has really moved and inspired me and clandestinely left me wishing I was a US citizen to be eligible to apply. During my research, I learned that, when gathering information from representatives of organizations, it is important to prepare questions beforehand so that they understand what information I am seeking from them. Overall, this has been an enriching experience as I learned about a service opportunity program that I did not know about prior to my research.
Peace Corps. Retrieved from: https://www.peacecorps.gov/
Brochures and Handouts received from a Peace Corps recruiter at the Marist Career and Internship Fair