Traditionally, the North Carolina Peace Corps Association (NCPCA) sends a delegate to the annual confab of the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), called Peace Corps Connect. We are an affiliate group of the NPCA. NCPCA pays a modest stipend to cover the cost of the conference. Other travel expenses are handled by the delegate who volunteers to attend. This year it was yours truly, the President of NCPCA
This year's conference was held at the Shawnee Inn Thursday, August 23 to Saturday, August 25, 2018 at the beautiful Shawnee Inn on the banks of the Delaware River in the Pocono Mountains of northern Pennsylvania.
Thursday - Registration & Reception
I drove up on Monday and stayed 3 nights with a volunteer I knew in Kenya and her husband. Thursday AM I left and headed north from Coatesville, PA to Nazareth, since 1833 the home of the C.F. Martin guitar factory. I took a guided tour that was fascinating. The company employs 500 people on shifts. Robots and lasers do the rough work of cutting out shapes then the rest is done by hand as it's been done for decades.
At the Shawnee Inn...
I registered when I arrived about 1:45 and picked up my conference program.
I had scheduled a meeting with Ella Dowell (Jordan 2011-15), Community Technology Systems Coordinator for the National Peace Corps Association, for 2:00 PM. The purpose of the meeting was to get an update on SilkStart and to discuss pricing for NCPCA should we choose to change our status from free with limited benefits to "Affiliate Pro" with considerable benefits. It was a productive meeting.
At 3 I drove back to East Stroudsburg to my AirBnB lodging. It was more in line with a retiree's budget than rooms at The Inn.
At 5:30 I drove back to the conference site where where there was a reception. We enjoyed generous hors d'oeuvres and an open beer and wine bar sponsored by Water Charity. NCPCA gave $1,000 to one of their projects in The Gambia organized by a Chapel Hill Peace Corps volunteer .
I re-connected with a pair of RPCVs from the First Coast RPCV group in Florida, David and Bernadette Miron. They've both been super active in the group and David transitioned their old Google website to the SilkStart platform!
The entertainment for the evening was supposed to be Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) but he called in sick. The substitute entertainment was a decent 3-piece bluegrass band. But it had been a long day for me just getting to the conference so I headed back to my lodging and called it a night.
Friday, September 24 - The Conference Begins...
The conference started with a plenary session from 9 to 11:30 a.m. The annual General Membership Meeting was first up. The main order of business was to approve the minutes from last year's meeting. Done.
We heard a Treasurer's Report that was optimistic in terms of this fiscal year revenues and expenses. There's still a carryover deficit that's being slowly whittled down.
NPCA president Glenn Blumhorst gave a brief update on the activities of NPCA and told the group besides continuing to reduce an operating deficit they are working on finding new office space in Washington, DC.
Charlie Dent, (R-PA) was introduced and addressed his experience in the U.S. House from 2005-2018. The RPCV who invited him lauded him as a great friend of Peace Corps through the years. Unfortunately he's retiring. Charlie told the gathering the best way to lobby members of Congress is to see them (or their staff) in person. He also related how he had enjoyed visiting PCVs in the field on trips he made abroad.
Mandy Manning, an RPCV and the 2018 National Teacher of the Year, gave a brief and inspiring talk relating how her time in PC showed her she was meant to be a teacher. She stayed around for the entire conference and was an active participant in a number of breakout sessions.
Under Women of Peace Corps Legacy, Roma Guy and Diana Jones received the Deborah Harding Women of Achievement Award from Deborah Harding and made brief remarks. Their story was featured in a series on Amazon that's available for purchase chronicling the U.S. gay civil rights movement, "When We Rise".
Up next was the presentation of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen award to Kul Chandra Gautam. He grew up in a country served by the Peace Corps and was influenced greatly by his contacts with a PCV. Among his many accomplishments he served as Assistant Secretary General to the United Nations.
The plenary ended at 11:30 and we had until 1:00 to meet the vendors at an Exhibitor Showcase.
I found the following vendors to be the most interesting and relevant to NCPCA:
Peace Corps Response
Museum of the Peace Corps Experience
(a Silkstart community platform website)
RPCVs for Environmental Action; currently operating as a Google group; email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to be added to the group.
RPCVs of Wisconsin-Madison (We buy our PC calendars from them.)
(a Silkstart community platform website)
RTI International (Meghan Meekins!) - recruiting for employees
RESULTS (the power to end poverty) - Ken Patterson, Director of Global Grassroots Advocacy, was working a table at PC Connect. He works out of Asheville and can easily conduct training for us on advocacy here in the Triangle if we have members who are interested at limited or no cost.
Peace Corps Community for Refugees - We already have a few volunteers from our group who are part of this affiliate group: Eileen Hancox, Ruth Sappie, Peggy Schaeffer, and Amy Blackwell.
(a Silkstart community platform website)
We had a plated keynote lunch at 1:00 pm. The ballroom chairs were so uncomfortable that I don't remember who the speaker was.
From 2 to 5 we had "Community Content Workshops". I attended a positive psychology workshop on "The Power of Story" as a source of well-being and one on "Media Training for Global Advocacy".
There was another reception and dinner for Kul Chandra Gautam by the river. I skipped both. There's only so much sitting, meeting, and socializing one can tolerate in a day!
Saturday, August 25, 2018
9 am - Community Content workshop - Tailoring your PC story to different audiences
This was a participatory workshop where we broke into teams. First we brainstormed on sheets of poster paper and listed what we thought would be appropriate story-telling techniques for different age groups. Each team was then given a country, artifacts from the country, a target audience age group, a PCV scenario, and background materials on the country. The assignment--develop a 3-minute "story" using the persona of the PCV and deliver the story to the group. I was elected to role-play the part of the RPCV from Moldova.
Lunch at The Arlington Diner (Breakfast & Dinner, too!)
What I had for breakfast at the Arlington Diner near my AirBnB lodging (see below) made me want to return there for lunch. There was no lunch scheduled so I skipped a plenary session where the Peace Corps Director presented the Ruppe award to the Cincinnati RPCV group. I didn't know she would be in and out so quickly and would not attend the afternoon session.
Meanwhile, Back at the Inn...
12:30 - 1 PM - More visits with the Exhibitors
1-5 pm - Affiliate Group Network Annual Meeting The Affiliate Group Network meeting was moderated by the outgoing Affiliate Group leader from the Board. There was no college credit for the meeting so I wasn't taking notes and her name escapes me. She did a fine job moving the meeting along through 4 painful hours of sitting in the main ballroom torture seats.
First order of business was to hear staff reports. Anne Baker, NPCA Vice President, made general remarks, then Ella Dowell gave a presentation on SilkStart to the group. Following those presentations we broke up into working groups where we had short presentations from the folks who'd been doing the Community Content Workshops.
Topics included PC Response, Oral History Project, Advocacy, and brainstorming ideas for what NPCA can do for the affiliate groups and, taking NPCA's perspective, what things does the organization have a right to expect from the affiliates. The old "walk a mile in their shoes" concept. Many interesting ideas emerged and we exchanged lots of good information.
As the conference wound down there was a rumor of a ukulele jam. That didn't materialize so I adjourned to the adjacent Shawnee Craft Brewery to fortify myself for returning to my lodging to pack up my stuff for the 10-hour drive back to Cary on Sunday!
Thanks to the Steering Committee of the North Carolina Peace Corps Association for making it possible for me to go to Peace Corps Connect 2018!