Thursday, October 21, 2010

Peace Corps' 50th at Michigan

Last week marked 50 years from the time that a young Presidential candidate named John F. Kennedy made a speech on the steps of the Michigan Union.  That historic speech became the call to arms for the Peace Corps.  I got to go back to my alma mater last week and be a small part of the kick-off festivities for the anniversary.

I still remember what my friend, J. Wesley Simms, said to me.  JW and I share a birthdate, he was a year ahead.  He joined and went to Mali about a year or so ahead of when I joined, and got invited to ... Hungary. 

I was an Asian Studies and English (creative writing and literature) major, but after 1989, they were sending all those who could teach English to Eastern Europe. JW said he wanted to do the Peace Corps in part because he wanted to be able to say he did at least one thing in his life that made a difference.  I think it is important for a lot of volunteers who join to be able to say their work does make that difference.

I remember when I was a newly returned volunteer in the 1990s and got to participate as the "90s volunteer" during the 35th anniversary events in Washington DC in 1996.  I was supposed to speak about the "Peace" in "Peace Corps" as reflected in my life.  I got to speak because I was a successful volunteer in the field with projects that continued today in Hungary, and in part because I was still working with a nonprofit.  My older self looking back at my younger self, I still find that my Peace Corps experience continues to define me now, every day.  I continue working with non-profits, and realize the pursuits that truly enliven me.

When I was sitting at the Brown Jug late last Thursday night, looking at a rowdy group of current students, I just was struck with what a wonderful campus Michigan is, and what a pivotal time in my life both Michigan and Peace Corps were for me.  So I got to step on the field of the Big House on Saturday ... many many people who love UM dearly never get there, so this was a very special experience, and all because as a young graduate of UM, I made the decision to join the Peace Corps, and did the best I could in all my situations.

I still remember where I was and the person who told me, "Do you know that Peace Corps is going to Eastern Europe now?"

UM's Peace Corps link
Peace Corps' 50th at Michigan makes the New Yorker to-do list.

Monday, September 27, 2010

From Peace Corps "Profiles" Recruiting Brochures - 1996

From Peace Corps public service announcement campaign (1996)

Monday, July 19, 2010

July 1989

President George H. Bush announces from Budapest that Peace Corps Volunteers will go to Hungary, establishing the first Peace Corps program in an Eastern European country.


Client: Peace Corps

Date: September 10, 1997
Piece: Global Article


For more than 36 years, the Peace Corps has shipped off thousands of talented people of all ages to help nations in need. These "citizens of the world" come back with value-added skills that help them make a difference here at home.

"Continuing to serve" is a motto for most Peace Corps volunteers who have returned to the United States after their two years of service. Back home, these special people put the skills and talents they developed half a world away to use making a difference.

Piece: Business, non-profits, women's and youth publications
Written for Peace Corps' 1997 National Public Service Announcement "Profiles" Campaign [edited]


Jeanne HuangLi is a full-time manager, a volunteer teacher, active, athletic and . . .

Jeanne HuangLi is an extremely busy young woman. Over the last two years alone, she: completed a two-day, 120 miles bike ride for the American Lung Association's Clean Air Challenge; served as a point person for the United Way's disaster response to a national disaster fire in Alaska; coordinated a visit of Russians wanting to adapt Alaskan community models for Nar'yan Mar, Russia; and addressed a crowd of more than 1,000 people from the steps of the United States Capitol in Washington, DC, about her experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Hungary. All before her 30th birthday.

Amazing as it may seem, the experience of managing national projects in the city of  KecskemĂ©t -on the Great Plain of Hungary--put Jeanne on the road to Alaska and her current position as Director of Resources and Services with the United Way of Anchorage. A native of Potomac, Maryland, HuangLi was drawn to the individualistic image of Alaska and the desire to do something "different." Much the same as she had done in the Peace Corps, she was looking for the chance to try new things and challenge herself in different ways.

Because she is involved with a wide variety of projects, HuangLi could not have designed a better job for herself after her Peace Corps experience. At the United Way of Anchorage, she administers the emergency food and shelter program for the State, participates in community development meetings, works with the agency review and fund distribution process, and is the lead person in a cutting-edge project to coordinate the resources of non-profits and government agencies at a single World Wide Web site. "The skills, experience, and knowledge that I gained in the Peace Corps included a lot of extensive project management," HuangLi said. "I was given a lot of autonomy in my projects and that helps me in every aspect of work that I do today in the non-profit sector, in my education, in working with non-profit staffs and boards."

HuangLi begain her service in Hungary in 1992, shortly after graduating from the University of Michigan. She learned to think quickly on her feet, be ready for contingencies, and develop the patience and tolerance to handle delicate situations. While her primary responsibility was to teach English at a Hungarian secondary school, her talents for project management really blossomed as she tackled other projects, such as organizing a national drama festival and national poster contest. The All-Hungary English Drama Festival started out as a small event, but soon expanded into an institutionalized, large-scale undertaking with 100 schools participating in four regional locations and one final around the country. HuangLi helped secure funding from various sources, including major multi-national corporations and private foundations. The festival has since been taken over by Hungarian teachers and continues today-- the true sign of a successful development project.

While in Hungary, HuangLi also organized and secured funding for a national poster and essay project to promote the study of English, and raise awareness of social issues among Hungarian students. Grade school students worked on environmental issues of air and water while high school students treated the close-to-home topics of war and peace (Hungary sits just north of the war-torn former Yugoslavia). A Fortune 100 multinational assumed title-sponsorship of this project which solicited several hundred primary and secondary school entries nation-wide and culminated in a two-week exhibit in Budapest.

In her adopted home of Alaska, HuangLi continues the Peace Corps tradition of contributing outside of her job. For example, she puts her teaching experience from Hungary to work by helping out at a local inner-city school. She is set to pursue a law degree and hopes to continue working with community and social issues.

When the Peace Corps celebrated its 35th anniversary last spring, HuangLi had the honor of being selected to represent volunteers of the 1990s, joining representatives of the 60s, 70s, and 80s in a ceremony marking the agency's birthday. In her remarks, she made the point that Peace Corps service is not just a two year proposition, that "continuing to serve" is the reality in the lives of most volunteers after they return to the United States.

That is most certainly true for Jeanne HuangLi, as it is for so many people who commit a period of time in their lives to volunteer service--whether with a non-profit or government agency. In belief and behavior, HuangLi adheres to the words of Thomas Mann, words she tries to live by: "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for mankind."