Support for LGBT Peace Corps Volunteers and applicants

Group of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers offers support to LGBT applicants, and help for Peace Corps recruiters, too.

Living two years in a developing country is rough — homesickness, language, culture, infrastructure, lack of creature comforts, etc. For people who are gay or lesbian, the experience can be even more challenging in cultures where same-sex relationships are hidden due to intolerance or fear of punishment.

So for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Peace Corps applicants, a lot of questions can arise that have tough answers. Questions like “Will I have to be celibate for two years?” or “How am I going to get myself back in the closet after working so hard to get out of it!?” And the mother of them all, “Can my partner and I serve together?”

In 1991 Mike Learned founded LGB RPCVs, one of many chapter groups affiliated with the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA) — the support and advocacy organization for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs).

Most NPCA chapter groups are based on the U.S. region where RPCVs live now — for example Boston Area Returned Peace Corps Volunteers— or else they are based on the country of service — for example Friends and RPCVs of Guyana.

LGB RPCVs is unique in that it unites returned Volunteers who served across the world, and who also now live across the globe. Its web site presents articles and Frequently Asked Questions for people considering Peace Corps service. The group also issues regular newsletters and features resources for Peace Corps staff to better understand policies that pertain to future Volunteers who are LGBT.

The Mentor Program — the groups’ “most successful outreach and recruitment project” — connects these future Volunteers with LGBT returned Volunteers in order to discuss life in Peace Corps.

Several years ago my friend Kate Kuykendall, then a Peace Corps recruiter, was interviewed for the LGB RPCV web site. In that interview she answers some of the questions posed above, and elaborates on the challenges of talking about the Peace Corps experience and sexual orientation with LGBT applicants.

Kate now works as a Peace Corps public affairs specialist for Peace Corps in Los Angeles and is a lesbian and a newlywed. I asked her if new state laws legalizing gay marriage affect the ability of gay couples to serve together in Peace Corps.

She said, “The recent changes to certain state marriage laws do not affect the Peace Corps’ policy of not placing [LGBT] couples together.  This is because, as a federal agency, the Peace Corps must abide by the federal definition of marriage, which is limited to the marriage between a man and woman.  The Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, is the law that prohibits any other interpretation of marriage.”

And for now at least unmarried couples cannot serve together in Peace Corps. Even siblings and other family members are turned down if they want a guarantee they’ll be posted to the same country, assignment, site, etc.

To find other groups of RPCVs, see the list on the National Peace Corps Association web site.

Building strong ties to local college career centers

Your service corps program and your Corps members can benefit from a good relationship with local college and university career services offices.

This afternoon I have the honor of working with directors of Oregon’s AmeriCorps and AmeriCorps*VISTA programs around the topic of career transitions for Corps members. One message I want to drive home is that developing ties to local career centers can help both with recruitment of new Corps members, and also helping current members with their next steps. Here are some ideas:

Getting Started: Invite career center staff from local colleges and universities for a brown bag lunch in your office to share resources and compare complementary needs. Some schools are part of a consortium that hold regular meetings; you could ask about presenting at one of these meetings. Some career centers have a counselor who focuses on public service; when you make your first call, you might ask for that person.

Be a presence (not just a flyer) on campus when it’s time to recruit: Staff tables at the school’s career fair, and let the career counselors know that you are available to speak at panel and round table discussions. Ask if there is a way to post your general and recruitment information on the career center’s website or resource library, or to staff a general information table on campus. (Idealist.org also organizes nonprofit career fairs hosted by career centers on college campuses throughout the United States.)

Be a resource on national service: Work with the career counselors to put together a panel on national service opportunities for college students. Help find current or former AmeriCorps, AmeriCorps*VISTA, and NCCC members, Jesuit Volunteers, Jewish Coalition for Service program participants, Peace Corps Volunteers, Teach For America, Public Allies, or City Year Corps members (seek people from a variety of service programs) to speak on a panel discussion, to help clarify college students’ options and understanding of the differences among the programs. Students may not understand how to apply to a program, or may be confused about the de-centralized application process for some programs. Be ready to offer guidance at least for your program!

Educate counselors about the benefits of national service: Let career counselors know that for some graduating or even gap-year students, doing a year of national service is a really good way to serve your community in a more concentrated, intense way than you may be able to through traditional, episodic volunteering. It’s also proven to be a  launching point for a public service career. Students looking for a year of work experience before going to graduate school will benefit from serving – often with a high level of autonomy, challenge, and responsibility – for an organization that doesn’t expect a long-term commitment. If they can think of the term-of-service as a fifth and/or sixth college year – during which the students serve the community, learn tuition-free, and may not have to pay student loans – the investment makes more sense. Not to mention the networking and the educational benefits!

Exchange career transitions support: As you develop relationships with career centers in your area, you might:
•    Ask if Corps members can attend resume and other workshops at the career center.
•    Arrange for college students to shadow Corps members for a day; establish a list of members who would be open to informational interviews and share it with career office contacts; invite college students on community service projects.
•    Offer for you and your Corps members to play the “employers” for mock interviews with college students – it is a great exercise for your members to be on the hiring side of an interview process.

Find more career resources for national service members on Encorps‘s Beyond the Service Year and What’s Next, and on Idealist.org through the career center, career guides, and Term-of-Service page.

This blog post has been adapted from a section of the forthcoming Service Corps Companion to the Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers, due out this coming spring from Idealist.org.

Grad school for social change

This week, the Idealist.org Graduate Degree Fairs for the Public Good kick off the 2008 fall tour on September 10th in New York City!

(Please note that due to the Service Nation Summit‘s Presidential Candidates’s Forum on Sept. 11 at Columbia, the venue for the NY fair has changed!)

The fairs bring together graduate schools that focus on positive societal change, and public service professionals– like you? –who want more education to further their careers.

If you are thinking about grad school, it’s one of the best ways we can think of to meet staff from some of the country’s top schools in degrees ranging from nonprofit & business management and social work, to public policy & administration, public interest law, public health, journalism, international affairs and more.

If you don’t live near one of the cities where the fairs will come this year, check out the Idealist.org Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center with lots of resources for going back to school. Read here for information specifically for service corps alumni.

Looking for experience before going to grad school?

Graduate admissions staff recognize service corps programs as a great way to get valuable, practical experience in the field to prepare for grad school.

If you are considering participating in a service program, know that several programs have benefits that await you after you are finished with your term.

Programs funded through AmeriCorps offer the Eli Segal AmeriCorps Education Award; the amount varies depending on the term of service, but a full term typically means $4,725. (The amount hasn’t been increased in a over a decade, though RPCV Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn) and others in Congress are working to rectify that with the AmeriCorps Act of 2008.) The ed award is held by the National Service Trust until you are ready to use it, and can go towards tuition at most schools, or for student loans. Dozens of grad schools match the ed award so that your award may be doubled if you enroll at those schools.

Teach For America, an AmeriCorps program, has also fostered partnerships with many top graduate schools around the country that benefit TFA Corps members through application deferments, scholarships and ed award matches, and application fee waivers.

As we have written about before on this blog, Peace Corps also has two programs, Masters International and Fellows USA. The latter is specifically for people who have returned from Peace Corps service already.

A pretty good comparison (including education benefits) of some of the more famous service corps programs can be found in Chapter Five (PDF) of the Idealist.org Guide to Nonprofit Careers. Also check out Equal Justice Works blog about public interest law. Other associations of social-impact grad schools can be found among Idealist’s grad fair cosponsors.

Do you know of other benefits for service corps alumni not mentioned here? We’d love to hear about them!

Also Idealist is still looking for grad school bloggers! Click here to see if blogging for us sounds compelling to you!

Also note that many grad schools offer benefits to service corps alumni that aren’t through official partnerships with the service programs. It’s always a good idea to ask at your target institution.

Ten Times the Peace Corps — and More Peace Corps 100 House Parties

Just in time for the Service Nation Summit, the Brookings Institution released a paper Ten Times the Peace Corps: A Smart Investment in Soft Power by National Peace Corps Association President Kevin F. F. Quigley and Brookings Non-Resident Senior Fellow Lex Rieffel. The premise of the paper is that a giant challenge for our next president is to re-establish good foreign relations, and that for the United States to succeed diplomatically we will need to show the friendlier or “softer” side to our power, and that Peace Corps Volunteers have been one of the best people to showcase that side. Hence, sending more Volunteers out into the field will help us meet our diplomatic goals.

Today, Sept 6, Peace Corps house parties are meeting around the world to re-invigorate Peace Corps. (See below.) The text below I copied from More Peace Corps:

100 House Parties on Saturday, September 6th! As of September 5, 2008, we have 118 parties confirmed in 42 states and 17 countries around the world!  What was originally imagined as a domestic affair has exploded into a global movement.  on September 6th, thousands of volunteers all over the world will convene for the Peace Corps.  If you would like to host a small gathering, it’s not too late!  Please help us reach our *new* goal of 125 parties and gatherings.

Through these parties, we hope to raise money, generate letters to lawmakers and get 5,000 sign-ups on http://www.MorePeaceCorps.org by the ServiceNation Conference on September 11th and 12th to show the presidential candidates that we are serious about doubling the Peace Corps.  What happens after we reach 5,000?  We go for 10,000 by October 14th, the historic anniversary of JFK’s speech at the student union of University of Michigan.

Click here to download a copy of our Organizer’s Toolkit with all the information you need to host your own House Party for MorePeaceCorps.

A huge thank you to all of our hosts!

———–

Have you hosted a More Peace Corps House Party, or attended? We’d love a report!

Service alumni needed to blog about grad school

Bloggers Needed for Idealist.org
School seekers and students write about grad school

Tomorrow’s civic leaders learn about grad school through Idealist’s events and resources.

Soon they can learn from each other.

In fall 2008, Idealist will link its Public Service Graduate Education Resource Center to bloggers who take on grad school.

The resource center is a collection of articles and advice about researching and choosing schools, applying and financing a degree, and more. The resource center will not host the new blogs, but link to blogs elsewhere on the web.

Types of bloggers we are looking for
We aim to look at grad school from 9 different lenses

Current or prospective…
1. Participant in a term-of-service program (Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Teach For America, etc.) who is taking advantage of an educational benefit associated with service2. International student pursuing a graduate degree in the United States who is a resident of the United States and intends to stay (immigrant)
3. International student pursuing a graduate degree in the United States who is a nonresident/alien who plans to leave the United States upon graduation (F1 Visa)
4. U.S. citizen pursuing a degree outside the United States
5. Grad student enrolled in a joint degree program
6. Part-time grad student working full-time
7. Doctoral Candidate
8. Undergraduate applying to grad school, with the aim of enrolling the fall after college graduation
9. Masters degree candidate

To learn more, go to http://tinyurl.com/idealistblogger!