July 19, 2003 - Hampton Crossroads: Peace Corps seeks minorities at reggae fest

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By Admin1 (admin) on Saturday, July 19, 2003 - 12:56 pm: Edit Post

Peace Corps seeks minorities at reggae fest

Peace Corps seeks minorities at reggae fest

Peace Corps seeks minorities at reggae fest

By LESTER J. DAVIS, The Virginian-Pilot
© July 19, 2003

NORFOLK -- People associate reggae with many things: music, culture, rhythm.

But on Friday, Peace Corps recruiters wanted to add something else to the list: service.

Recruiters from the 42-year-old organization hosted a table at this year's Reggae Solstice -- the eighth annual reggae music celebration at Town Point Park.

``What's the Peace Corps? Like, do you have to start right away? Because I'm a sophomore in college,'' said Tiffany Welch, as she thumbed through brochures and pamphlets of Peace Corps material.

Usually, volunteers want to know how the Peace Corps will benefit them, said Nikki Maxwell, one of the two regional recruiters at the event. But that question is often a difficult one to answer.

``It's hard to explain to someone that the best benefits they're going to receive are intangible,'' said Maxwell, who served two years in South Africa.

In his 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush called on Americans ``to extend the compassion of our country to every part of the world,'' and mentioned doubling the number of Peace Corps volunteers over a five-year period from a little more than 7,000. In recent years, the Peace Corps has made efforts to reach out to minorities as well as increase its numbers.

``I think a lot of people think of white middle-class people right out of college joining the Peace Corps,'' Maxwell said.

But the organization is trying to change that image, she added. Currently, 85 percent of volunteers are white, according to a fact sheet distributed by the Peace Corps, and that can send the wrong message to a country that's not familiar with America, Maxwell said.

``We want other countries to see what America really is.''

While the racial makeup of the Peace Corps hasn't changed much over the years, Maxwell said attending events like the Reggae Solstice allows the organization to recruit different kinds of applicants.

``It's, one, trying to get those who are active in the community,'' Maxwell said, referring to festivalgoers. ``The second part is getting those from different backgrounds and age groups.''

Volunteers are stationed in places such as Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

Moving across the globe in the name of service might inspire some, but others may have deeper reservations about starting anew, said Shana Snowden.

``It would probably be more appealing to someone who doesn't have a family,'' said Snowden, who was visiting from Illinois. ``Someone who would uproot.''

Sara Johnston, a public affairs specialist with the Peace Corps, said that first-generation, college-educated volunteers may have a tougher time convincing family their decision is wise.

It's especially difficult, said Johnston, ``after they have had college loans and want to go overseas for two years and serve.''

She added that recruiters often explain to applicants that leaving their comfort zone is sometimes a reward in itself.

``When you come back with all the skills you've learned and developed, you're going to be able to turn around and give that back to your own community,'' Johnston said. ``And that's how we say you can really make a difference.''

Maxwell said she will spend today the same way she spent Friday: looking for the best crop of volunteers.

``If I had a group I would want it to be racially diverse, economically diverse, age diverse and all should definitely be flexible.''

Reach Lester J. Davis at 446-2253 or lester.davis@pilotonline.com

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Story Source: Hampton Crossroads

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; Recruitment; Minority Recruitment; Music



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