August 16, 2004: Headlines: NPCA: NPCA: Chicago Conference Founders Day Dinner and Silent Auction

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Chicago Conference Founders Day Dinner and Silent Auction

Chicago Conference Founders Day Dinner and Silent Auction

Chicago Conference Founders Day Dinner and Silent Auction

Chicago Conference Founders Day Dinner and Silent Auction
Friends of the Peace Corps and former volunteers and staff filled the glittering Empire Room at the Palmer House Hilton to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the NPCA and CAPCA. Proceeds from the silent auction will be used to support NPCA programs and Peace Corps Partnership Projects. CAPCA recently supported a youth cultural exchange trip to Ghana, bought computers for a lab in Romania, and underwrote the construction of community water tanks in Kenya.

Incoming NPCA Board President Ken Hill, and Conference Co-Chairs Trina James and Stephanie Arnold welcomed the speakers and guests. In his remarks Ken acknowledged Donna and Chelsea Mack, mother and sister of fallen RPCV Jeremiah Mack (Niger 95-97) and creators of the Fallen Peace Corps Volunteers Memorial Project.

Political commentator Chris Matthews (Swaziland 1, 68-70) served as the evening’s emcee and he regaled the audience with rapid fire reminiscences of his volunteer days, his “moveable feast.” The presence of his Peace Corps roommate made the evening particularly special for Chris.

“Peace Corps,” he said, “is a vital part of me. In Swaziland I learned that we are all social beings, and that I didn’t like being alone anywhere…especially in Swaziland.” To much laughter Chris recalled arriving on site and being told “your job is to develop this entire province.” Poignantly he remembered how “all they (the Swazis) cared about was us. Somehow a chair would always appear…even when they didn’t have chairs.”

Calling the 1960s “the best decade known to man” he wished there was “more noise level” today from people with developing country experience.
Peace Corps Director Gaddi Vasquez offered his congratulations to the NPCA and CAPCA on their 25th anniversaries. And although he has “the best job in Washington,” the conventional wisdom around his office is that “on any given day there’s a Peace Corps volunteer somewhere in the world determined to make my day an interesting day.” Chris, he guessed, was probably that kind of volunteer.

Following dinner, former Thai Foreign Minister Surin Pitsuwan spoke briefly. Returned Peace Corps volunteers, he said, “Speak softly, speak clearly and integrate values from around the world into your lives.”

Next singer and activist Peter Yarrow performed. He began with a soft rendition of “If I Had a Hammer,” then segued into “My Country Tis of Thee.” He prefaced the next song, “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” with the story of a hospice patient.

Stating that people had not yet had “a chance to have a public moment,” Peter invited the audience on stage to accompany him in singing “Puff the Magic Dragon.” He joked about the rumored subtext of “Puff” and insisted, “Puff is clean!”

“People tell me they grew up on my songs. Well I have news for you—so did I! I wrote it when I was barely 20. There was none of that stuff then. Now later….” The crowd laughed. “Puff is about when you can no longer dwell in the world of childish things. Tonight our magic dragon is Peace Corps.”

Peter also sang “Don’t Laugh at Me,” the inspiration for and cornerstone of his new organization Operation Respect. He issued a call to action to the Peace Corps community. “If there is one thing I have learned it is how much you have learned about the decency of the people with whom you have served. You have an enormous resource and I want to make a challenge to you. I want to become a Peace Corps volunteer, but in a practical way. I want to find the linkages with you on a platform around these songs. Now is the crucial moment and I could not be more energized.” Peter finished out his performance with “Blowing in the Wind.”

NPCA President Kevin Quigley brought the evening to a close by asking audience members to thank Chris, Surin and Peter in the languages of their Peace Corps countries. No one seemed to want the evening to end as the speakers lingered to chat with—and in Peter’s case, hug—the guests.

When this story was prepared, here was the front page of PCOL magazine:

This Month's Issue: August 2004 This Month's Issue: August 2004
Teresa Heinz Kerry celebrates the Peace Corps Volunteer as one of the best faces America has ever projected in a speech to the Democratic Convention. The National Review disagreed and said that Heinz's celebration of the PCV was "truly offensive." What's your opinion and who can come up with the funniest caption for our Current Events Funny?

Exclusive: Director Vasquez speaks out in an op-ed published exclusively on the web by Peace Corps Online saying the Dayton Daily News' portrayal of Peace Corps "doesn't jibe with facts."

In other news, the NPCA makes the case for improving governance and explains the challenges facing the organization, RPCV Bob Shaconis says Peace Corps has been a "sacred cow", RPCV Shaun McNally picks up support for his Aug 10 primary and has a plan to win in Connecticut, and the movie "Open Water" based on the negligent deaths of two RPCVs in Australia opens August 6. Op-ed's by RPCVs: Cops of the World is not a good goal and Peace Corps must emphasize community development.

Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: NPCA

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