President Obama, Listen to Concetta

When I was the Manager of the New York Recruitment Office, back in the mid-90s, I worked for Concetta Bencivenga (Thailand 1992-94). Well, actually I was her boss, but all of us in the office seem to end up working  for Concetta!

After her tour as a Recruiter, she won a full scholarship to Texas (given to RPCVs by the University, another benefit of being a PCV) and got her masters degree. She now is a hotshot VP at the Please Touch Museum in Philly. This is a letter that she wrote the President recently asking for an increase in funding for the agency. (A word to the wise…If I were you, President Obama, I’d listen to Concetta)

Dear President Obama:

I am saddened by your decision to overlook a funding increase for the Peace Corps.  I served as a volunteer in Thailand from 1992 – 1994 and as a Recruiter in New York (in the World Trade Center, actually) from 1995- 1999.

I went on to obtain a Masters Degree in public policy and am now the Chief Financial Officer for the Children’s Museum of Philadelphia.

Peace Corps is widely recognized as one of the best management training programs on the planet.  It is (or was) the largest employer of English Language teachers in the world.  For the past 8 years, Peace Corps has been on a subsistence diet that has kept it rolling along- somewhat anemically.  You have the opportunity to do what countless people-and presidents-have promised but not delivered- that is to fulfill President Kennedy’s dream of having 10,000 volunteers in the field.

To accomplish this goal by 2011- the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps- we need to start today. Right now. With the  $425 million you promised.

On the day of your inauguration, I rushed out and bought a big screen TV for the museum, so your littlest constituents could bear witness to a proud historic day for our nation.  I wept tears of joy throughout the entire ceremony. On Tuesday I was firing off messages on my blackberry to friends all over the world sharing in our pride and joy at your words and your plan.  This is probably why I am so baffled by your unwillingness to seize on an organization that is crucial to increasing our standing throughout the world and bringing home- year after year- Americans who as BIll Moyers says are “citizens of the world”.

I could continue to elaborate on the amazing return on investment the Peace Corps yields, or the creativity it spawns (From Paul Theroux, to a founder of Lucas Films, to the inventor of the Snugli to the entrepreneur who started NetFlix- all RPCVs).

Instead I will share with you, my president, a story that I have not shared before. In the summer of 2001, I led a group of American high school students on a trip through Thailand. We spent 6 weeks trekking around, learning about the culture, completing a service project and yes- returning to my small village for a reunion.  When I arrived at the school where I taught there was a huge banner that read “Welcome Home Ajaan Anne” (Ajaan means teacher and Concetta was too difficult to say in Thai).  While there, my friends were proud to display the new computer they had received. It was in the main office, shrouded in plastic and while they had heard of the internet, they weren’t quite sure how it worked.  Immediately I sprung into a crash course of the wonders of the world wide web and we even set up a “hotmail” account.  I left only partially convinced that this computer would ever be put to good use.

On September 15, 2001 I received an email.  It’s a bit hard to recollect the exact wording but in general it went something like this: “Dear Anne, We are very worried about you and your family.  We know that you work in the World Trade Center and that your family is all in New York.  Please write us soon to tell us that you are okay.  We have cancelled classes and are praying for you in the School’s temple. We miss you and hope that you are fine.”   Mr. President, can you think of a better reason to expand the Peace Corps than this?

Please increase the budget to $425 million- there are legions of people- families, parents, students, young people, retired people, Returned Volunteers, prospective volunteers, and villagers all over the world- just like mine in Thailand who will do whatever it takes to ensure it’s the best $425 million you’ve ever invested.
Thank You.
Sincerely,
Concetta Anne Bencivenga
RPCV Thailand 1992 -1994
N.Y Regional Office of the Peace Corps 1995-1999
Chief FInancial Officer, Please Touch Museum

Concetta Anne Bencivenga
Chief Financial Officer
Please Touch Museum
The Children’s Museum of Philadelphia
4231 Avenue of the Republic
Philadelphia, PA 19131

6 Comments

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  • We all want a larger Peace Corps. In my book it cannot be too large.

    But the original idea of John Kennedy to send thousands of Americans abroad to improve cross cultural understanding gave way to the Corps becoming a “mini-USAID” (Agency for Inernational Development, the Federal program to aid and abet development around the world). In fact AID draws many of its people from AID. But we do not need a “mini-USAID,” we need a program to promote cross cultural understanding. The Peace Corps has lost its original goal and focus and in the process lost support.

  • As someone who served with Concetta in Thailand, and who is still lucky enough to be her friend, I would also like to say that President Obama should give her a job! Seriously, Concetta can get anything, and I mean ANYTHING, done. She is a phenomenon.

  • If the Peace Corps has really lost the A.I.D. tie, great. The concept of requiring the admittance of the Peace Corps which would do A.I.D. and World Bank leg work for astronomical loans when appropriate technology could have accomplished similar goals with much less debt was always based upon bullying and base greed. I agree with our President that it is unproductive to point fingers. Let’s get on with the important goals like cross cultural understanding through meaningful work. I agree with Leo. What the hell, we’re both old.

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