Western Regional RPCV Meeting, 20 May 2006

Prepared by Joana Ramos


The meeting was held at the home of Temma, with facilitation provided by Paulette and Bob. For the record, we collectively were PCVs from the 1960's to 2005, and served in Africa (Benin, Kenya, Morocco, Niger, Togo, Uganda, and Zaire), Latin America (Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Peru) and Eastern Europe (Ukraine).

Group Reports

Idaho RPCVs

Paulette Thompson read the report of Sam Greer, who was unable to attend. They report some 50 new members. Major activities are participating in the annual International Village, a Boise multicultural summer event sponsored by the International CommUNITY Center of Idaho, and hosting this year's Western Regional RPCV camp-out at Dworshak State park near Orofino, August 3-6. Details of the campout may be found at: website of the Columbia River group and on the SEAPAX website: http://www.seapax.org/events.htm.

Inland NW Peace Corps Association (Eastern WA, Northern ID)

Kim Potter of Spokane was introduced as the new President of the Inland NW group, which now numbers some 25 members. Their major income is from sales of the RPCV international calendars; they donate to NGOs and projects with which group members are involved. Activities include biannual potlucks, and past hosting of the regional meeting and campout. Former President Sue Braden is now their advocacy chair, and she also recently was a Crisis Corps volunteer in the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. New activities will include hikes to local scenic areas, and restaurant nights.

West Cascade Peace Corps Association (Eugene)

Beryl Brinkman reported that they hold monthly potlucks with a speaker, with good attendance; most recent was a talk on the situation in Darfur. They are in touch with nominees via the PC recruiter at OU. As a result of a recent membership drive, they now have 83 paid members and 35 additional names RPCV on their database.

Paulette gave us a recap of the last Regional meeting that had been held in Eugene in January, 2006, at which various organizational issues and leadership concerns related to the national group were discussed.

Columbia River PCA

No one was present from this group. Paulette reported that the Portland group will be participating in the new-PCV nomination party in July. The group seems to be growing, and there has been an upsurge in attendance at their potlucks and pub nights. Findlay added that some group members are involved in ongoing work to create the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience. At present they have been able to mount temporary displays at sites in Portland are still seeking permanent home and funding for the museum.

WA State Peace Corps Association (metro Seattle)

With the exception of Treasurer Temma Pistrang, WSPCA now has an entirely new slate of officers as of this month, including President Jen Nicholas who was just elected to fill the vacancy left by the former new president (now on an extended Crisis Corps assignment).

The group has just switched to an an integrated electronic newsletter-website format. The decision was made both to facilitate communication and to simply distribution of the newsletter, for which printing and mailing had been WPSCA's major expense. Those members unable to read the e-version may still receive a hard copy upon request. Membership recruitment is ongoing.

SEAPAX's major fundraiser is also sales of the intentional calendar. For the 2005-06 school year, funds were earmarked to support the shipping of books to rebuild a school library in Slidell, LA, that was lost to Hurricane Katrina. Joanne Dufour reported on how the project evolved, via her family and RPCV ties. Over 1000 donated books were sent to a special-education middle school and to a high school, resulting in heartfelt thanks from students, families, and teachers alike.

SEAPAX- Olympia (satellite group)

Bob Findlay reported on recent activities, noting that they are not yet formally constituted as an official group. Michelle Andrews has been active in organizing bi-monthly dinners which have had a good turnout. They are hoping to add more of an educational focus to these in the future. One accomplishment was getting Gov. Gregoire and Mayor Mark Foutch to issue proclamations in recognition of the 45th anniversary of the creation of the Peace Corps.

No other group representatives were present, nor sent reports.

Other group business

Topics discussed included building and retaining membership and policies of the NPCA that complicate finances of the local groups. NPCA gives free 1-yr. memberships to recently-separated PCVs, and thus boosts the "head count" per local group, increasing the dues assessment that the local owes to the national. But the local ends up with a net financial loss, as most of the "new members" neither pay local dues nor join either group after the year is up. This is particularly an issue for the larger affiliated groups like SEAPAX and CRPCA.

The matter of the change in the status/venue of the NW region in the NPCA hierarchy was also discussed. Paulette reported that last year the NPCA voted to redistrict the NW region into a larger Western region that now includes CA, HI, and NV as well as WA, OR and ID. It is a credit to our group that the NW rep—Bob Findlay—was re-elected to represent the entire West. Sue reminded us that we have a long history as a regional network, dating back at least 25 years, well before the creation of the NPCA (formerly the National Association of RPCVs). Some of the individual NW regional groups have decided to contribute funds to support the attendance of the Western rep at national meetings.

Sue gave us an assignment to reflect on leaders who have had a positive influence to either Peace Corps or to the greater society, and to think about how their work and values might be incorporated into a vision for the ideal PC director. We discussed the tenure of Gaddi Vasquez, who is about to leave PC for an ambassadorial post with the FAO. PC directors are traditionally political appointees, and RPCV voices regarding their selection seem not to be heeded. How much influence we can collectively have is uncertain.

Those present also discussed ethics issues that play out on the local level, namely how to handle the frequent requests from non-member individuals and groups that want to solicit funds from us, ostensibly to support projects about which there may not be enough organizational detail and transparency. Occasionally, there are requests from group members (mostly inactive ones) who would like to use our venues for their own business promotion. Attendees were in agreement that each group must clearly state guidelines for types of promotions and announcements that are acceptable, with Board members retaining final discretion for selection.

NPCA Report

Bob Findlay shared that the NPCA is presently not just going through yet another organizational transition, but is facing a real crisis of relevancy. Out of some 180,000 RPCVs, only 7500 are members of the NPCA. The national group is exploring ways to increase membership, including vastly re-structuring the organization. He has floated the idea of making membership free to all RPCVs, then seeking funding through donations and grants. His idea has had a mixed reception. Sue noted that some concern has been expressed over the executive compensation of the current NPCA director, in light of both the size of this NGO and its financial situation.

Other proposals to remedy the crisis include turning the NPCA into a virtual community, changing it to a membership organization that serves members like an alumni association. A second proposal was distributed that outlines a simplified membership structure. None of the three proposals incited much discussion or feedback at the last NPCA Board meeting. What will happen remains to be seen and input is needed. At present, at least 25 local or country-of-service groups have chosen not to continue to affiliate with the NPCA. Most of them, it was noted, have disbanded as groups for various reasons, and only a very few were rejecting NPCA per se.

Those present discussed their experiences and perspectives on the matter, including dismay that one of the most successful and ongoing RPCV efforts, the Global Education program, has not received the attention it deserves. Many felt that the Global Ed program could also have served as a catalyst for building a strong national group as it provides visibility nationwide and internationally, as well as offers a unique and important service to communities across the country. Several folks present shared their belief that the NPCA has been too focused goings-on within the DC Beltway, and has been out of touch with the vast majority of us, both geographically and in terms of our lives, work and community involvements. Local groups seem to be able to keep going, although they too have life cycles, but the future of the NPCA remains uncertain and complex to resolve.

The next Regional meeting will be held at the Idaho campout on August 5, 2006.

Bob ended the discussion advising us to stay tuned for announcements of events that will be held to commemorate the 45th birthday of the Peace Corps in September.

After adjournment and clean-up attendees proceeded to Tempero do Brasil restaurant in the University District of Seattle, where we were joined by other SEAPAX folks and family members for a memorable Brazilian dinner and a special, unexpected, treat of live Brazilian music.