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Out & About in Cleveland

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An Evening with the Peace Corps Director and a Welcoming Party for New Cleveland Residents

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Our second event for Thursday, June 28 was an early evening reception and forum with Dr. Jody Olsen, the newly designated 20th Director of the Peace Corps.

This gathering took place at the Drury Plaza Hotel on East 6th Street in downtown Cleveland and was part of the Diplomacy Begins Here: Women Who Rock the World Summit put on by the Cleveland Council on World Affairs (CCWA); Global Ties U.S.; and the U.S. Department of State.

Its description read that these groups "will welcome local leaders in civil society, government along with leaders in international exchange programming throughout the country, to highlight our region's public diplomacy initiatives and specifically how women have played a key role as citizen diplomats."

Throughout the day attendees were treated to such undertakings as a keynote speech by Ms. Maria Perez-Davis, Deputy Director of the NASA Glenn Research Center; a foreign policy briefing by Ms. Marta Costanzo, Youth Director of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration at the U.S. Department of State; and a panel discussion on women in social enterprise.

While we were at the reception, we talked about Dr. Olsen with our good friend, former Cleveland City Councilperson Brian Cummins, who served in the Peace Corps from 1990 to 1999 in various positions in several countries. Councilperson Cummins told us he had heard very good things about Dr. Olsen, who had quite an impressive resume.

Prior to her presentation, we looked up Dr. Jody Olsen and learned she started her tenure in the Peace Corps as a volunteer in Tunisia from 1966-1968. From there she occupied quite a few positions within the Peace Corps before she was named as its Director earlier this year. Among these were: the Country Director for Togo in 1979; Regional Director for North Africa, Near East from 1981 to 1984; Chief-of-Staff for the Peace Corps in 1989; Peace Corps Deputy Director in 2002; Acting Director of the Peace Corps in 2006 and 2009.

Accordingly, it was only right that her introduction was given by Ms. Maura O'Donnell McCarthy, whose father, Mr. Kevin O'Donnell, served as the 4th Director of the Peace Corps in the early 1970's.

In the course of her speech, Dr. Olsen reviewed the mission of the Peace Corps, which is:To promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:
1. To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2. To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3. To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Dr. Olsen indicated that service in the Peace Corps often changes the lives of its volunteers forever; after they complete their service they often pursue humanitarian-oriented careers and put the knowledge and skills they acquired in the Peace Corps to excellent use here in the United States.

Other things that Dr. Olsen talked about were the importance of the partnerships that the Peace Corps forms with other entities to help finance its various projects and recent developments within the organization itself, such as the practice of letting the volunteers choose the jobs and countries they are assigned to (as long as they are qualified), whereas in the past they were simply assigned a job and a country.

Above all, she wanted to emphasize the excellent accomplishments of the Peace Corps in terms of elevating the status of women in the countries where it provides services. Dr. Olsen talked about a particular instance wherein Ms. Beth Bowers, a very dedicated volunteer serving in Zambia, was killed in a bicycle accident, but her parents and friends established a memorial fund in her honor which helps educate the young women in the Zambian village in which she served. These young women came to be known as Beth's Girls, and at this time total around two hundred. 

During the Q and A, we asked Dr. Olsen what she had learned from an immigrant or a foreign-born person in the course of her career. She thought for a moment and told us she had learned a lot from her relationship with her brother-in-law who immigrated here from Iran some 35 years ago.

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Even though her brother-in-law ultimately became a very successful entrepreneur, she appreciated his struggle with learning the English language, which understandably took him a while. Moreover, she believes that his acclimation to his new country that he loves is an ongoing process that will never be fully completed; a part of him will always be Iranian, from a country he also loves and always will.

After the Q and A, Dr. Olsen invited everyone who served in the Peace Corps to come forward for a group photo with her, and we were impressed by the number of people who did.

We never served in the Peace Corps, but in 1981 we drove from California to Pennsylvania where we served as a Volunteer-In-Service-To-America (VISTA). We told this to Dr. Olsen who told us that she believed being in VISTA was a good thing, too.

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We left the Drury Plaza Hotel intending to head over to an ice cream social put on by MotivAsians at the fishing pier in Edgewater Park, but as we approached, we could see that the park was literally packed with people and cars. In fact, the line of cars attempting to enter was quite lengthy, so we reluctantly decided this was one event we had to decline.

Instead we decided to swing over to the Michael J. Zone Recreation Center at W. 65th St. and Lorain Ave. because Councilperson Cummins told us that an event would be taking place there.

This event was starting to wind down when we arrived, but we learned it was a welcoming party for people who had newly arrived to the neighborhood, including some immigrant families. It was put on by the Cleveland Police Department (District 2), Metro-West, Neighborhood Connections, Habitat for Humanity, and Advocates for Peace and Change. Prior to our arrival, there had been music, food, and dancing. Attendees numbered about 200 and, for us, it seemed like the type of gathering that should be appreciated by everyone in the Cleveland community.

 

Michael Patterson

Community Liaison

Margaret W. Wong & Associates, LLC

Aimee Jannsohn