Monterey is home to a number of still-vigilant Peace Corps returnees.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Fifteen years ago a young Celia Bosworth of Pacific Grove traveled to the tropics to fulfill an ambitious dream. In a rural Costa Rican hospital she undertook a Peace Corps assignment to improve the conditions of the physically disabled. But her passion for culture and her desire to help the least fortunate did not stop with the end of her two-year tour.
Fortunately Bosworth discovered that within Monterey County scores of like-minded citizens collaborate to carry on the Peace Corps torch.
When she got back, Bosworth immediately hooked up with the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Monterey Bay. “I began to get involved in order to stay connected with people who have similar experiences as me,” she says. “It was something of a support group and a way of keeping my Peace Corps life alive.”
The group operates under the National Peace Corps Association and is one of 21 member organizations of the Monterey County Peace Coalition. It includes about 60 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) who hold events throughout the year, ranging from gatherings to volunteer events to classroom presentations.
At this year’s holiday bash about 20 RPCVs shared travel stories and networked for current projects. The host, Pacific Grove resident Heidi Irvin, served in three African countries post-retirement, and now volunteers for the Aquarium, local thrift stores, and the Sierra Club.
“Returned volunteers are never boring,” Bosworth says, “There are so many more out there [in the area] who are not a part of the club but are involved in so many other things—they are teachers, work in service-related fields, or environmental organizations.”
Of late the Monterey chapter has volunteered at a food bank in Watsonville, joined beach clean-ups and native plant restoration projects, and sponsored events on international issues with the United Nations Association. Meanwhile, satisfying the numerous local colleges, career fair organizers, and groups seeking speakers to present information on the Peace Corps and its host countries is a constant effort. That clicks with a major goal of the Peace Corps. Bosworth calls it “bringing back the world to America.”
“Just about anyone that I come into contact with,” she says, “even in the line of the grocery store—has to hear about my experiences.”
Josh Rosenthal, a RPCV from Monterey, distributed disaster relief in Guatemala during Hurricane Stan and coordinated microloans and classes for at-risk Mayan women while teaching their children business skills. In a month, he’ll share his experience with a public talk and slide show about Guatemala, the Peace Corps, and poverty. And he won’t stop there. “I plan to volunteer throughout my life in Guatemala and other Central American countries,” he says. “As for traveling abroad, there is nothing I enjoy more and will be traveling until the end of my days.”
Another local Guatemala returnee who now works in renewable energy, Nickalus Johnson, shares the sentiments. “My life now centers around international travel and bringing value to the world through my work and community involvement,” he says.
Toni Thomas, the Peace Corps student coordinator at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) who returned from Costa Rica in 1997, says she did not encounter like-minded returnees and citizens until she moved from Toledo, Ohio to Monterey. “A lot of people in Middle America just don’t understand,” she says. “This is a much more comfortable place to land on your feet. Monterey is very international and historically has been settled by many ethnic groups so the community is tolerant of differences.”
Thomas oversees the Peace Corps Master’s Program at MIIS, where students spend their first year and last semester at the school and two years in the Peace Corps to earn a master’s degree in International Business or Teaching English. Thanks partly to this program, the MIIS enjoys the largest population of RPCV students (in terms of percentage of students) of any college nationwide. One of its long-standing professors, Peter Grothe, even coined the very term “Peace Corps” while working for Senator Hubert Humphrey in 1960.
Appropriately enough, this community of Peace Corps alums is represented by a returnee in Congress. Rep. Sam Farr served in a rough-and-tumble town in Medellin, Columbia in the ‘60s.
“The Peace Corps really gives people a way to respond to a call to action—to help others rather than helping yourself,” Farr says. “And, as people say, it ‘gave me another soul’ by helping me learn another language and culture.”
THE RPCVS NEXT MEET Feb. 11. Call 375-5002. For more on the Peace Corps, visit peacecorps.gov