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Yemiymah Yisra'el (kneeling, front row, left), other Peace Corps volunteers and a Panamanian family in Santa Clara, Arraiján, Panama, in front of one of the first rainwater catchment systems that Peace Corps volunteers helped families construct in this community. Yisra'el is a master's degree candidate studying recreation, park and tourism administration in WIU's Peace Corps Fellows Program in Community Development. Photo courtesy of Yemiymah Yisra'el.
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Adam Kohlrus (kneeling) is a master's degree candidate in health sciences in Western's Peace Corps Fellows Program in Community Development. He served in the Peace Corps in Swaziland from 2006-08 as a community health volunteer. This photo was taken at a workshop he held in his village in Swaziland. Photo courtesy of Adam Kohlrus.
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WIU's Peace Corps Fellows Program in Community Development is also an AmeriCorps program that utilizes AmeriCorps funds to deliver service in underserved Illinois communities. Peace Corps Fellows (from left, back row) Leo Dion (Galesburg, IL); Matt Wakefield (Arlington Heights, IL); Kathryn Nees (Portland, OR); and (front row) Kohlrus (with flag) and Yisra'el, in Springfield (IL) last October after taking the AmeriCorps Pledge of Service. Photo courtesy of Karen Mauldin-Curtis.
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Peace Corps Fellows Help Create Meaningful Change All Year Long

January 9, 2012


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MACOMB, IL -- During the first week or two of the new year, change tends to be on people's minds. According to the website USA.gov, change related to fitness, career and/or education goals and volunteering to help others are among popular New Year's resolutions for Americans. The USA.gov list also provides handy links to government resources to help citizens get and stay on track with their New Year's vows to change. For example, the "Get Fit" resolution links to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, and the "Volunteer to Help Others" links to the United We Serve, Corporation for National and Community Service website, serve.gov.

Serve.gov provides information about programs Americans can engage in to help create change for the betterment of communities and the world. On serve.gov's "Additional Opportunities" section, AmeriCorps and Peace Corps are listed; both are programs through which volunteers help communities create change at home and abroad. At Western Illinois University, both programs are represented via the award-winning Illinois Institute of Rural Affairs Peace Corps Fellows (PCF) Program in Community Development.

According to PCF Program Manager Karen Mauldin-Curtis, for many people living and working in rural Illinois, this program in community development has provided meaningful and positive change in their communities.

"Last month, a brief article in the Chicago Tribune pointed out that Illinois ranks fourth among states in the number of people who volunteer to serve in the Peace Corps. The article noted the program currently has 397 Illinois residents," Mauldin-Curtis said.
"For returning Peace Corps volunteers in Illinois and elsewhere interested in pursuing a master's degree and continuing to serve at home, our Peace Corps Fellows and AmeriCorps program provides a unique opportunity for them to utilize their experience, help rural Illinois communities and work toward an advanced degree in one of eight disciplines."

Mauldin-Curtis -- a Peace Corps volunteer who served in the Dominican Republic and is an alumna of Western's PCF program -- noted that Peace Corps Fellows enrolled in Western's program can pursue a master's degree in business administration; economics; political science (with a public administration emphasis); recreation, park and tourism administration; geography (with a regional planning emphasis); health sciences; sociology; or educational and interdisciplinary studies (EIS). After each Fellow completes his or her coursework and a required assistantship, he/she then serves in an 11-month internship position in an underserved rural community in Illinois.

"Over the years, the Peace Corps Fellows Program in Community Development has continued to provide a means through which innovative community programs -- such as economic and business-development initiatives, recycling programs and health and wellness programs -- are initiated and sustained in rural communities in Illinois," she explained.

WIU Provost and Academic Vice President Kenneth Hawkinson, who hails from Carpentersville, IL, and served in the Peace Corps as an English professor at a teacher's college in Mali, West Africa, from 1986-1988, noted the Peace Corps experience provides an ideal training ground for the WIU PCF students who go out and serve in rural Illinois communities.

"The experiences are perfectly aligned. All Peace Corps volunteers are essentially trained to engage in community development," he said. "For the most part, the volunteers are just right out of college, so they are generally 22 or 23 years old, and in many of the countries they are serving, there is a great respect of age. So, many times, you have a 23-year-old volunteer who is required to help the village elders understand such concepts as business plans and cooperatives, and it is a real challenge. But Peace Corps volunteers are trained how to do it -- how to show the proper respect and etiquette. They learn how to deal with people who are much older than them and the ones who make the decisions, so they are trained to be very effective communicators. And most Peace Corps volunteers learn to do all that in a different language," Hawkinson noted.

For Springfield, IL, native and WIU Peace Corps Fellow Adam Kohlrus, who decided to join the Peace Corps during his senior year of college after hearing the national Peace Corps director speak in Chicago, serving in the Peace Corps in Swaziland and Guyana enabled him to hone his skills in community health practices. Currently Kohlrus is a master's degree candidate in Western's health sciences program in public health. As part of the PCF program internship requirement, he is serving as a PCF/AmeriCorps volunteer at the Illinois Hospital Association.

"I served in Swaziland from 2006-08 as a community health volunteer focused on HIV/AIDS education and prevention, as well as a Peace Corps Response volunteer in Guyana focusing on health education and youth-development activities. I had significant personal relationships with the families who opened their homes to me in both Swaziland and Guyana," he said. "The opportunity to experience other cultures in such a deep and profound way was an amazing experience. I am constantly humbled by the wisdom that I received from those relationships," Kohlrus added.

Chicago native and master's degree candidate in the recreation, park and tourism administration program Yemiymah Yisra'el joined the Peace Corps because she wanted to pursue that popular New Year's resolution of volunteering to help others, as well as to learn a new language and work abroad. Yisra'el is currently serving in an internship with the McDonough County Housing Authority and served in the Peace Corps in Panama from 2006-10. Her experience as an environmental health volunteer in Panama and as a Peace Corp Fellow in Western's program has not only encompassed helping to institute change for the communities and the people with which she worked and is working, but also instituting change in herself.

"While serving in the Peace Corps, I learned if I want to see change or create change, I have to change. I realized I had to embrace change in myself to learn to try and see circumstances from others' perspectives," she said. "I take the same approach in my internship with the McDonough County Housing Authority. In order to design and provide appropriate community recreation programs to the members of the community, I have gotten to know the people I'm serving, learned to see things from their perspectives. Welcoming change in myself, to become a part of the community, makes me want to invest more in my work. I know it not only helps improve their quality of life, but mine, as well."

Since the Peace Corps was officially established March 1, 1961, the volunteers for the U.S. federal government agency "devoted to world peace and friendship" have served in more than 139 countries. According to the Peace Corps website, the Peace Corps volunteers' work "represents a legacy of service that has become a significant part of America's history and positive image abroad."

Kohlrus echoed this when asked about the value of serving as Peace Corps volunteer.

"I feel that our service as volunteers illuminates the essence of what America is in the hearts and minds of those host-country nationals who we live and work with," he said.

For more information about WIU's Peace Corps Fellows Program in Community Development, contact Mauldin-Curtis at (800) 526-9943 or (309) 298-2706 or via email at K-Mauldin-Curtis@wiu.edu, or visit www.peacecorpsfellows-wiu.org.

For residents in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Wisconsin interested in learning more about Peace Corps service, contact the Peace Corps Chicago Regional Office at (800) 424-8580 or (312) 353-4990 or via email at Chicago@peacecorps.gov or visit peacecorps.gov.

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