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Returned Peace Corps volunteers to plan local celebrations for PC's 50th anniversary at Ming Ten

Peace Corps was conceived on UMich's campus. In 2009, Michigan ranked in the top 10 states for producing PCVs.

Peace Corps was conceived on UMich's campus. In 2009, Michigan ranked in the top 10 states for producing PCVs. /dan bruell on Flickr (Creative Commons - NC, SA)

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Returned Peace Corps volunteer groups are in nearly every region of the country, and there are numerous RPCVs studding West Michigan. Tomorrow at 7 p.m., they will break bread (or snake around the buffet trays) at Ming Ten (2090 Celebration NE) to catch up, remember their wildly different good ol' days and discuss how to celebrate Peace Corps' 50th anniversary.

"We are planning some events for [Peace Corps' 50th anniversary] next year, and that's really the discussion we're trying to figure out: What do we want to do?" said Mark Coleman, who is the president of the West Michigan RPCV Association and who served in Honduras from 1980-1983.

Although not a part of the official 50th anniversary celebration, University of Michigan commemorated the 50th anniversary of the program's conception this year by reenacting President John F. Kennedy's legendary three-minute speech to students in Ann Arbor. About 40 RPCVs have identified West Michigan as their home RPCV chapter, and Mark expects about a dozen people with families in tow to be at the planning dinner.

"This group is a geographical group, so our common connection is that we are all Peace Corps volunteers," Mark continued. "The farthest that people are coming from now are White Hall, Muskegon, that area. Most people are here in the Grand Rapids area."

The West Michigan chapter is affiliated with the National Peace Corps Association and while each Peace Corps experience is unique, RPCVs and their families get together for potlucks, picnics, service projects and fundraising events every few months.

"We [range from] recent returnees to one of our members was the first group in '66," Mark said. "Other than that, we're interested in promoting the third goal of spreading the word on Peace Corps."

There are two anchors each year in the form of the annual meeting in December and the international potluck to kick off the year. The potluck features a keynote RPCV who shares about his or her time abroad, usually complete with cultural trinkets and a photo slideshow. Keynotes dive into the specific details - politics, development, location - which shaped the volunteer's experience in that time and place, and contrasts observed if they have returned after close of service.

There will also be some pre-planning for the annual meeting at tomorrow's dinner, from filling leadership positions to disbursing funds. All funds raised from membership dues and fundraising events, such as an annual yard sale, go toward local educational programming or to support groups, vetted by RPCVs, that do grassroots work in international development.

"We'd love to have new, young kids. We'd love to have them take off and do something with what's going on," Mark said.

The dinner is planned for 7 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 22.

Disclosure: I am a returned Peace Corps volunteer.

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