An Afternoon with the Leading Voices of National Service
Upon receiving an email invitation to George Washington University in D.C. to listen to the CNCS CEO and the Peace Corps director, AND the acting VISTA director, I immediately confirmed I had no urgent business on April 3, 2019. In addition to my AmeriCorps service in VM29 and my current employment with Volunteer Maryland, I am also a VISTA alum by way of Strong City Baltimore and a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (Mali ’02-’04), so I felt like they had tailored this event to me personally. I cleared my calendar and when the day came, I hopped a MARC train for our nation’s capital at the height of sakura season.
When I arrived, I saw a lot of familiarity: Recruitment booths, AmeriCorps logos, VISTA swag, Peace Corps branding, a smattering of acquaintances from all three of my National Service affiliations; but also the look of people who have seen beyond their world, who have experienced meaningful successes as well as meaningful failures and have resolved to eschew meaningless successes and failures. Maybe it was all in my head, but it seemed palpable in the moment.
I learned that the head of VISTA, Eileen Conoboy, served in Peace Corps Mali as well, and that she had worked in Peace Corps a long time before switching over to AmeriCorps. I learned that Barbara Stewart, running the CNCS, and Jody Olson in charge of Peace Corps have been having conversations about the similarity of their programs and are exploring avenues for closer association between domestic national service under CNCS and service abroad in Peace Corps. Eventually these speakers gave way to a panel of distinguished alumni who shared their experiences and how their service shaped and continues to shape their success. Scattered between the featured speakers were a heartfelt welcome from host Caroline Laguerre-Brown on behalf of GWU and videos prepared by people currently serving. The audience was even attended to by a team of active AmeriCorps NCCC members.
As the event closed out, any Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in the audience were asked to stand. I stood. Then, AmeriCorps alumni; I stood again. And surprisingly, we were asked to stand yet again if we were both. (I’m skipping over the sole Senior Corps alum who stood to a wild ovation.) The dozen or so of us exchanged quizzical glances as we were called to the stage, where we were honored to wear pins bestowed on us by each organization and to stand for a picture signifying the closeness and compatibility between the two service opportunities.
A little time spent mingling in the aftermath, and before I knew it I was headed back home to Baltimore on a standing room only MARC train. I know Peace Corps has changed quite a bit since I closed my service some fifteen years ago and I know it had changed a lot since its inception even then; similarly I know AmeriCorps today is different from what it was in its infancy in the 1990s when VM was a pilot program. But I know from my afternoon in Washington that the past, present, and future of these programs—being in good hands–will continue to be intertwined going forward.
Written by Thomas Darnell, Volunteer Maryland Operations Coordinator
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