University News

According to Western Illinois University's Peace Corps Fellows (PCF) Program in Community Development Manager Karen Mauldin-Curtis, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Rural Development funding will expand the ability of the PCF program to place and support at least four graduate interns in rural communities. She said the funding helps offset the sponsorship cost to communities that wish to host a Peace Corps Fellow, and it enables the program to serve rural communities that might not otherwise have access to the technical assistance the Fellows provide through the program.
[Download Print-Quality Image]

WIU Peace Corps Fellows Awarded USDA $96K Grant to Serve Small Business in Rural IL

September 19, 2016


Share |
Printer friendly version

MACOMB, IL — Rural communities in Illinois, and graduate students at Western Illinois University will, once again, be supported by a Rural Business Development Grant (RBDG) from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)-Rural Development. In late August, staff members in Western's Peace Corps Fellows (PCF) Program in Community Development were notified they had received another $96,000 grant award from the USDA's RBDG program.

According to Karen Mauldin-Curtis, PCF program manager, the funding will expand the ability of the PCF program to place and support at least four graduate interns in rural communities. She said the funding helps offset the sponsorship cost to communities that wish to host a Peace Corps Fellow, and it enables the program to serve rural communities that might not otherwise have access to the technical assistance the Fellows provide through the program.

"The students fill the need for trained individuals to coordinate community and economic development projects. The target area is comprised of small, rural communities across the state. Communities projected to be included are Stockton, Mt. Carroll, Oregon, Carthage and Argenta," she explained. "This project began September 1 and will run through August 31, 2017. We're very fortunate that USDA-RD has been a long-time partner; over the last 20 years, the agency has invested more than $800,000 in our program in support of the work we do to assist small, rural communities with their community and economic development goals."

Western's Peace Corps Fellows Program is situated in the Illinois Institute for Rural Affairs (IIRA) at WIU. According to IIRA Director Chris Merrett, the funding helps to create a reciprocal learning experience for the Fellows and the host communities.

"The PCF brings his or her international experience and enthusiasm to the host community to help each community achieve some of its community-development goals," Merrett noted. "On the other hand, the members of the host community also teach each Fellow many skills. Local leaders in the host communities have typically been enthusiastic about sharing their leadership and administrative knowledge with the PCFs, thus, the USDA funding helps foster a win-win situation, in which the PCFs and the host communities benefit mutually from the partnership."

Merrett added the grant award is an essential part of the PCF program and not only helps the students and communities, but also helps the University overall, as well.

"This award will continue to help WIU recruit top-notch graduate students—individuals who have traveled the world, speak at least two languages and have a history of high achievement," he said. "These students enrich the graduate school experiences in their WIU host departments."

Long-Term Impact and Award-Winning Service

The USDA-Rural Development's investment in the PCF program continues to support long-lasting, positive impact in each community.

"A recent example of this can be found in the community of Durand," Mauldin-Curtis said. "With support from a previous RBDG, we placed a Peace Corps Fellow in Durand, and the arrangement was so successful that, as the 11-month assignment neared completion, the community created a community and economic development director position and hired the Fellow to stay on after his internship ended. In the two years since the placement occurred, Durand has continued to show growth in the small business sector, and job creation continues."

She added that USDA-Rural Development has been an essential partner in the PCF program's success, both as a funding agency and also as a technical resource to Fellows during their internships, as the PCF WIU students, and the communities they serve, benefit from the strong network of USDA-RD programs and staff across the state.

WIU's Peace Corps Fellows Program is in its 22nd year of service to rural communities in Illinois. Over the years, the program has received distinguished awards, recognizing its innovative practices and contributions to the field of community and economic development. In 2014, the program was recognized by Innovations in Civic Participation and America's Service Commissions as one of the nation's most innovative AmeriCorps Programs in the field of economic opportunity. In 2010, the program received the Excellence in Community Development Award from the University Economic Development Association (UEDA) and was also recognized by Innovations in Civic Participation as Illinois' most innovative AmeriCorps Program.

"In addition, individual Fellows have been recognized for their outstanding academic achievements on campus and service to communities off campus. One indicator of the long-term impact and success of the Fellows program is the many economic development projects implemented in the more than 150 communities served since 1994," Mauldin-Curtis said.

For more information, contact Mauldin-Curtis at (309) 298-2706. Learn more about the WIU/IIRA Peace Corps Fellows Program in Community Development at www.wiu.edu/pcf.

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg (WIUNews@wiu.edu)
Office of University Relations