Peace Corps Cafe at Peace Corps House (Washington, D.C.)
One of the features of the Washington, D.C. Peace Corps House will be a Peace Corps Café.
The idea behind the Peace Corps Café, independent but related to Peace Corps House, comes from the Press Café in Batumi, Georgia, that far corner of eastern Europe. Happily; it was the project of Craig Schwinck. Craig served in the coastal city of Batumi.
Here is what Craig had to say about his Peace Corps assignment in Batumi, Georgia:
“My assignment was to establish a place where the free press in Georgia was able to come, discuss, debate, develop and learn from each other. We who started the café had a goal to create a safe haven for that expression. It became a place not only for the press, but for everyone in the state of Adjara to share diverse ideas, experiences and good food. Would it work in Washington?
“I believe so. The Press Café has two distinct concepts that would work in DC: It is a full-service restaurant providing profit for sustainability. Next, the Events provide for free expression, learning and development, a place to debate and reflect. It has an experience-driven dynamic that is transferable if developed around the local area.
“Since its opening in late 2010, the Press Café has hosted many events covering topics such as; human rights, journalistic ethics, civil and religious freedom, documentary and art-house cinemas. The Café atmosphere is kept new and inviting by changing the art and décor monthly and the Café is available for NGO’s to use for open and closed meetings. While the Press Café is a school for democracy, the emphasis is on enjoyable. The Café also has unique uses such as hosting children in a program where they learn about the development of the Georgian constitution and their rights under it.”
RPCV Craig Schwinck’s original and truly comprehensive 25-page Management Manual for the Press Café is available to help jump-start such a café. Wouldn’t a Peace Corps Café as an independent outgrowth of Peace Corps House help make Far Southeast/Southwest a neighborhood of choice and a more livable and better place to grow up?
Because that is the aim of Peace Corps House. Not to generate a local culture of dependency or weaken existing programs —but rather support self-sufficiency— and to help Ward 8 “build back better.”
And a sustaining source of funding for the Café could be a hostel nearby for travel-status Peace Corps Volunteers and staff.
Here’s Craig Schminck’s YouTube video of his Georgian Peace Corps Café…Take a look. It is impressive.
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A Press Cafe would be competing with the several Busboys and Poets establishments throughout the city, both as a restaurant and center for “free expression, learning and development.” Any thoughts on why a Press Cafe is needed or would succeed in the face of such competition?
Also, if the Peace Corps House and Press Cafe is to benefit the neighborhood, has there been any input from neighborhood leaders about their needs and interests?
Martin asks a fair question. In our website, I write in my Forum, Talking Points Memo, “that it’s essential that early contact be made with City officials and neighborhood leaders. A settlement house is never imposed, it develops within such partnerships. In the Archives read the note to Catherine Buell, then Executive Director, St. Elizabeth East, a City project bringing back to positive life the old St. Elisabeth mental hospital area in Anacostia. There’s also a related document in the Archives taken from the original January Concept Paper,“ A Way Forward.”
I also make it clear on the home page that “The way forward is clear.It will require a modest initial investment in a feasibility study and fundraising plan. Because the International Federation of Settlement Houses (IFS) is highly supportive of Peace Corps House, it has agreed to help identify an individual knowledgeable in the organization and operation of settlement houses to carry out this next step at a cost of about $7,500.”
Now, the feasibility study will of course address the question of appropriateness to the neighborhood and whether or not Peace Corps House or the possible Café would be welcome. At this point, we just have a model to take to the community, once one is located. At this point, no neighborhood has been selected.
So, travel through the website, http://www.peacecorpshouse.org. I think you will find that we are about ready to reach out. And of course, it could take a while to find the right community fit. But 400 American settlement house and a thousand more around the world have done it. And we will work with experts in these decisions.
It would seem to me that a program has been selected, a goal established -to develop independence, not dependency- and a general part of the city targeted and all of this has been done independent of the citizens of the area. This strategy may well be worth while for the International Settlement House organization, but it is difficult for me to understand what this would have to do with Peace Corps for these reasons:
1) Peace Corps operates in foreign countries, not the within the United States.
2) Peace Corps goes only where invited.
3) A survey of the people to be served is done first to establish “felt needs” which may or may not include the services of the Settlement House.
I also think it would be important to do not a feasible study, but rather a review of existing programs as well as programs that have been tried and failed, over,say, the last fifty years. I think that in our country, politics are an essential component of dealing with problems. I would hate to see the Peace Corps become political, however, well intentioned this idea.
I respect the impulse to help., I just don’t think this is the best way.