As Training Officer, Kennedy would escort the first PCVs to Ghana. Then he was appointed by Shriver director of the Division of Volunteer Support (PCV/DVS in Washington lingo). After his five years in-up-and out at the agency he went to VISTA, and then went onto become President and CEO of The Columbia Association in Columbia, Maryland, i.e., more or less, City Manager/Mayor.
Now retired, Pat recently sent me this short essay on establishing Peace Corps’ Career Information Service, which helped RPCVs find a life after their tours. Over the 50 years, this ‘service’ has been curtailed and basically eliminated by the agency. The Peace Corps, as we know, does not spend money on RPCVs, saying that that is the job of the NPCA. Of course, we all know that the NPCA, with limited membership and money, and only a few hand-outs from the Peace Corps to put on Job Fairs, can’t really help RPCVs. When it comes to life after the Peace Corps, ‘honey you are on your own.’
However, once it wasn’t that way, thanks to those early Mad Men and Women in the first years of the Peace Corps. Here’s Pat on how PC/HQ helped RPCVs back in the 60s.]
THE PEACE CORPS’ CAREER INFORMATION SERVICE
It is surprising that given all that has been written about the Peace Corps, nothing has been written about the origins of its Career Information Service (CIS). That is particularly surprising since the CIS did so much to smooth the transition of Peace Corps Volunteers completing their service and surprising because it has helped Volunteers advance the Peace Corps’ third goal.
It wasn’t until sometime in late 1962 that the Peace Corps began focusing on the fact that the first Volunteers would soon be completing their service., That’s when the Division of Volunteer Support was charged with organizing a career assistance program to capitalize on the valuable experiences Volunteers had gained during their service abroad. As Director of Volunteer Support (DVS), I was given the task of setting up a career information service. The task was complicated by the fact that the Peace Corps had neither the funding nor Congressional approval for such an undertaking. Given the mentality of the Peace Corps in those days, however, those were considered merely obstacles to be overcome…
From the earliest days, Sargent Shriver had created the Peace Corps Advisory Council, chaired by Vice President Lyndon Johnson. The Council was made up of such influential leaders as Dr. Benjamin Mays, FatherTed Hesburg, Harry Belafonte and Thomas Watson Jr.. Like the other members of the Council, Watson, the President of IBM, was an enthusiastic supporter of the Peace Corps.
Given my task, I telephoned his office in Armonk and scheduled an appointment to discuss a Peace Corps issue. On the designated day, I took the Eastern Airline shuttle from National Airport to LaGuardia where I was met by an IBM driver who whisked me to IBM’s headquarters in Armonk.
Mr. Watson was very welcoming and ushered me into his private dining room for lunch. Initially, he talked exclusively about bomb shelters , a hot topic in those days. Finally, however, our conversation turned to the Peace Corps and our dilemma. Watson immediately understood the importance of having a Peace Corps’ career assistance program. However, when I asked him to make a grant to tide us over until the Peace Corps’ Congressional budget hearing, Mr. Watson said he would do something better. He said he would dispatch one of IBM’s key Personnel executives to work directly with us for several months. The result was in March, 1963 , IBM’s Paul Stroem arrived at the Miatico Building and began work on designing a program.
Despite IBM’s assistance, however, there was another problem. The Peace Corps didn’t have any funds to run the program on an ongoing basis. Following up on a suggestion, I approached the Carnegie Corporation in New York city to seek a grant. There I met with Peter Caws, an Officer of the Carnegie Corporation. Caws was intrigued by the whole Peace Corps concept. The Carnegie Corporation had a deep interest in improving area studies programs at American universities, and Caws immediately saw the potential impact that returning volunteers could have. The upshot was the Carnegie Corporation made a grant of around $100.000 to underwrite the program’s beginnings. The grant was made to the American Council on Education with the understanding that I would provide the necessary direction.
The next task was identifying someone to join the Peace Corps’ staff to run the career assistance program. The talent search turned up Dr. Robert Calvert, who was the Placement Director at the University of California at Berkeley the scene of the Peace Corps’ first training program. Calvert agreed to come to Washington, started working on the program while still at Berkeley and arrived in Washington full-time on September 1, 1963. Initially he was paid under the Carnegie Corporation’s grant until the Peace Corps got new legislation passed and was able to incorporate the Career Information Service into the Division of Volunteer Support. Calvert worked out of office space the Peace Corps secured in an historic town house on the corner of Jackson Place and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Bob Calvert set up an impressive operation complete with a library designed to address the varied interests of returning volunteers. He also set up career information libraries in the Peace Corps’ host country offices. The Career Information Service was soon answering hundreds of letters a week from Peace Corps Volunteers.
On the domestic front, universities were persuaded to establish scholarships for returning volunteers. Before long leading universities had established 260 Peace Corps Fellowships. The Ford Foundation created 50 additional Study Fellowships, ¾ of which were won by returning volunteers. Opportunities were also developed in business and particularly with such governmental agencies as the Peace Corps, AID and the Office of Equal Opportunity. John Macy, Presidents Kennedy and Johnson’s Director of Civil Service, was also urged to make Peace Corps service count towards longevity in the Federal service .
That, in short, describes the origins of the Peace Corps’ Career Information Service. The Service, which Bob Calvert continued running until 1967, provided valuable information to returning volunteers, developed opportunities for them in a broad range of fields and helped place volunteers in positions where they could bring their Peace Corps experiences home to America. As for the volunteers, the Peace Corps experience changed their goals, and influenced them to seek careers in international affairs, teaching, social service, government and the nascent War on Poverty.