Peace Corps House: A Home to Turn to When You’re Looking to Serve Again
By Tom Hebert & Joseph Shaffner
The Peace Corps is one of those experiences in life that is hard to explain. It’s just one of those things you have to try in order to understand the full impact on yourself and on the community where you serve. There are few experiences that are as challenging and fulfilling as volunteering.
You know the question: “So, what was it like to serve in the Peace Corps?” When you first return, you want your answer to encapsulate all of the laughter, tears, struggles, successes, and friendships you experienced during service – to immerse the listener in the experience itself.
As time goes on, you adjust your responses to fit the level of interest wrapped in the questions as they present themselves. You have your “it was great” – the equivalent of “I’m fine” when someone casually asks how you’re doing. You have the elevator speech you prepare for interviews and brief business encounters – fine-tuned to make your volunteer-acquired skillset appealing to potential employers. Then, you have your one or two stories about a community project you worked on with a women’s organization or about the time a student of yours spoke a sentence in English for the first time. The full story usually takes too long for most people, but there’s always that lingering hope that someone will want to sit for a while.
After returning from service, most RPCVs can’t seem to shake off the desire to serve – whether they serve on a nonprofit board, participate in local service projects, help coordinate their office team for a fundraising event, or volunteer to lead a local youth group. That desire to serve never seems to fade away.
Peace Corps House
Peace Corps House is a nonprofit we’re looking to get off the ground. It’s an opportunity for those looking to serve again at the local level – to be part of meaningful, sustainable change with all of the laughter, tears, struggles, successes, and friendships all wrapped up in the experience.
Tapping directly into the desire to serve again – right here, and especially in the current political climate – Peace Corps House would provide the opportunity to work within a community – or communities – in Washington, DC. It would be a place where RPCVs – whether out-of-towners passing through for a few days or those living in the area – could engage that passion to serve.
The idea of a Peace Corps House grew out of the life experiences of several RPCVs who spent part of their careers working and living in Washington, DC. They were attracted to the important civic contributions of the Settlement House Movement, which began during the Progressive Era of the 1880s – a period of widespread urbanization and social reform. Often called community or neighborhood centers, settlement houses are guided by a distinctive model of neighborhood-based work that provides essential social services while recognizing the value of building communities and promoting social justice.
Peace Corps House, operating as a 501(c)(3) and independent from Peace Corps, would address the needs and aspirations of the local community with a variety of services and programs aimed to improve the lives of community members. Services could include: health care clinics, literacy education, youth after-school programs, workforce development, daycare, cultural programs, and, for those who are homeless, amenities and a job assistance center. In the beginning, Peace Corps House will concentrate on programs that empower young people.
Integration in the community is the goal of Peace Corps House. The center must be folded into the very fabric of the community, with those being served taking leading roles in the decision-making processes, programs, and activities. While working with an experienced settlement house director, RPCVs would provide daily support, expertise, and empowerment – thus adding to the sense of community ownership essential to the success of the center.
Peace Corps House will be established and partially managed and staffed by RPCVs, who will bring with them not only the experience of having worked in the fields of education, agriculture, community economic development, health, etc. but also who have the ability and compassion to work within an underserved community to foster the common good.
Under the umbrella of Peace Corps House, RPCVs may be called on as volunteers to work with local schools, a Homework Club, facilitate fitness activities like Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move, initiate community gardens, support fundraising efforts, participate in community development efforts, or help tackle employment challenges. Eventually, we’d love to start a Peace Corps Café – a full-service bistro providing a space for events and free expression, learning and development, debate, and reflection.
Social Services, Social Justice
Peace Corps House has a foundation rooted in the Peace Corps experience. Its primary objectives are simply social services and social justice. The challenges that arise out of those objectives are, by no means, simple – but they are ones that can be met with passion and determination.
The three Purposes of Peace Corps House are therefore:
1. To help make a DC neighborhood a more livable and better place to grow up.
2. To serve the people in the neighborhood with effective social services.
3. To advocate for social justice.
We’ve told you our story. Now, tell us yours, and come give us a hand.
To learn more about Peace Corps House, visit http://peacecorpshouse.org/. And to read up on our current needs, check out this page http://peacecorpshouse.org/volunteer-opportunities. Don’t see anything matching your skills and interests? Get in touch with us anyway. We’re always up for a conversation.