Members of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida, Inc. (RPCVSF), are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), Current and Former Peace Corps staff members, several Peace Corps Volunteers currently serving overseas,and family and friends - all working together to promote peace through cultural exchange and continuing service in our communities at home and internationally.
Our social events, service projects, advocacy, and educational activities provide Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with the chance to connect with other RPCVs in South Florida and to advance the Third Goal of Peace Corps: Strengthen Americans' understanding about people and cultures of other countries. Or, simply stated: Bring the world back home.
After meeting informally for some years, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida, Inc. (RPCVSF) was formally incorporated in Florida on July 16, 1986, by nine Founding Directors including today’s still serving volunteer Director and Legal Advisor, Greg Zell. Soon thereafter, RPCVSF joined the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), an organization that connects and champions RPCVs and the global Peace Corps community. Information about NPCA is at http://www.peacecorpsconnect.org/. And, in 1988, RPCVSF was granted 501(c)(3) status by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
The purpose of RPCVSF is to continue the commitment made upon becoming a member of the Peace Corps to advance the cause of volunteerism for the betterment of the world and the community. Any Peace Corps volunteer who has returned from service in good standing with the Peace Corps shall be entitled to membership in RPCVSF upon payment of the dues.
The mission of RPCVSF is to:
a) advance the cause of volunteerism for the betterment of the world and the community;
b) provide an opportunity for volunteerism in South Florida and the world; and
c) provide support service and networking for RPCVs living in South Florida.
RPCVSF accomplishes its mission through volunteer events, social functions, education, advocacy and networking. RPCVSF also endeavors to: a) strengthen awareness of the Peace Corps and its programs throughout the world; b) recruit new Peace Corps Volunteers; and c) when appropriate, encourage advocacy for the Peace Corps.
Today RPCVSF has more than 275 members resident in South Florida, Southwest Florida, The Florida Keys and overseas. The group has an active calendar that includes Partnership Dinner fundraisers to support the projects of PCVs in service, community service events, picnics, potlucks and happy hours - please join us for an event soon!
In addition, through volunteer committees, RPCVSF operates a Fair Trade Market designed to introduce and promote the purchase of Fair Trade products from Peace Corps countries; hosts an annual outing to the Florida Everglades for more than 120 children; awards an educator the Spirit of Service Learning Award (including a cash award); and for 13 years operated The Colombia Project, which made grants to Colombian organizations providing micro-loans to individuals.
We welcome all RPCVs as members, and we welcome anyone to join as an Associate Member. In addition, please contact us if you would like to support our work by making a donation for one of our events or service projects.
Present at the Creation: RPCVSF, The Early Years
by Greg Zell (Nigeria September, 1962-December 1964)
Dedicated to Everyone who has served on the Board
Before RPCVSF, there were individual RPCVs in the Miami area. I was a bit unusual in that I went into Peace Corps from Miami and returned to Miami. The phone number I gave with my application was in my family for another 30 years. After law school, I was essentially self-employed or controlled my own schedule. Whenever Peace Corps called. I was available; occasionally Peace Corps called.
I always felt the need for a local RPCV organization but I never was a driving force. I attended 2 or 3 attempts to organize. The group always divided so: We should just have 3 or 4 potluck socials a year without an organization; OR we should create something the public might want, like Widgets for Peace, and sell them on weekends from the median of US 1; OR we should select one community project to support indefinitely; OR we should formally organize as a charity recognized by the IRS.
In 1985, I was invited to a house in northeast Miami to brainstorm. This time was definitely different. The location was not in the southwest or near UM; The people present were new to me. They seemed to have met once or twice already. There was someone they referred to as President but they also called him Anchor. I asked him his name. “Anker Lerret,” he said. I still did not know if Anchor was his name or his title. The dozen people gave their opinions: No organization. Potluck socials; Widgets for Peace; One project; Organize. Those of us in the last group decided to continue meeting to see where we would end up.
We agreed to incorporate. We took the statutory requirements and debated each one. Name: Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida, Inc. Too long. Drop the Inc. Not allowed. NCRPCV was into changing its name to National Peace Corps Association. We did not want to be a Peace Corps Association because that sounds too much like being just a cheerleader for the agency. Membership: we wanted a vehicle to accomplish the Third Goal, and so we limited our voting members to RPCVs. Corporations kill themselves with quorum requirements and so we set our own as was allowed at the time. 3 directors present for a called board meeting; The AGM quorum, modeled after the House of Lords, two members plus either the president or vice president. During debates, Al Baird (Philippines) would say, “In my stamp club, we do such and such.” We would cut him off with, “We are not the stamp club. We are the United Way.” When the charter (Articles of Incorporation) was completed, President Anker (St. Vincent) called a meeting to adopt and sign it. We sent the Secretary of State a check and received our charter with a founding date of July 16, 1986.
Election time came again. Anker was finishing his third one year term. I began privately expressing my view that the organization needed a change of leadership every 3 years even though we do not have term limits of any sort. I was prepared to take a stand at the next board meeting when President Anker announced he could not serve another term because the was going to an Episcopal seminary in North Carolina and marrying Dibba. (Yes, Anker married Dibba whose baby brother could not say Deborah, a true Peace Corps love story. She arrived in St. Vincent as he was ending his service and followed him to Miami when she finished hers. He went on to found the RPCVs of North Carolina). There never has been a rush to be an officer. Fortunately, our VP Bob Anderson (Gabon; Ghana) agreed to move up. Al Baird moved to VP and I became Secretary.
We were now ready to put our organization to a test with our first “event”. One of our directors had an in with the Department of Children and Families and could get us a dozen or so dependent children; another director had an in with The Miami Herald for some publicity. We settled on a cookout at a small park in north Miami. The turnout of members was excellent; the kids were beautiful. When the press arrived, the chaperones announced they were taking the kids back to the home because some of them could not be photographed. Their parental rights had not been severed. The State had no hold on them if a parent demanded them back. The RPCVs got into a huddle. We assigned two RPCVs to each child who could not be photographed. Each time the child moved into camera range, an RPCV would interpose him or herself between the child and the press. The Herald left after a few pictures. Our “event” was a raging success. So we decided to move on. Our smorgasbord approach to activities began.
VP Al was an often out of work adult-ed teacher, but a supreme schmoozer. He was absolutely thrilled at having been a PCV at the age of 40+ because of public perception it was only for 20 somethings. He found out the school board maintained a warehouse of used textbooks which state law required the board to sell cheaply to poor school districts who got plenty of free new textbooks from donors. He schmoozed a friendship with someone at the warehouse. Al assured our board we could get all the books we wanted but only when he could get us in. He then hooked up with Brother’s Brother Foundation out of Philadelphia for a grant to cover shipping. (Shipping companies get too many requests and so turn them all down.) He connected with Rotary International in various countries to meet book shipments and help get customs fees waived. (The Port of Miami and all major ports are supported by import duties, even on donations.) We had nothing to lose by submitting the project to NPCA for its Lorret Miller Ruppe Award competition for best project in the nation. WE WON! President Bob collected our prize. We never were entirely sure if our access to the books was legit. Nevertheless, the women in the women’s prison in Trinadad and Tobago have a library of Miami-Dade County textbooks.
The young organization operated on a shoestring and was micromanaged. Every penny spent had to be appropriated by the board since we usually lack a budget which would allow funds to be managed by the treasurer and the president. In order to keep a treasurer, we have minimized the duties. We always need photocopies, typing, mail-outs, long-distance phone calls, and people-power. We had a Peace Corps Recruiting Office in Miami headed by a wonderful RPCV. She wanted to be helpful. Whenever we needed something, VP Al would volunteer to pay a visit to her office for a schmooze. I don’t think she ever knew how much she and her staff really helped us.
The Book Project required a lot of postage on international mail. Al requested a postage appropriation at every board meeting. Each request was granted after the board jokingly accused him of living off the postage. As Bob’s third term was coming to an end, I suggested to Al that it was his turn to move up; I would be his VP. His precise words: I am a good VP. I would not be a good president. You be president and I will be your VP. And so my rise from secretary was meteoric. Al told the board books were available the following Friday and that it was not easy to get our members out on a week day. Would we appropriate $25 to hire someone off the street if needed? The request was granted. He spent all day Friday operating a forklift at the warehouse putting pallets of books into shipping containers. He went home and that evening suffered his first and last heart attack at 53. Those of us who helped his family collect his things know all our postage was spent on stamps. I went on to serve two terms when personal considerations (impending poverty) made me the first president not to serve 3 consecutive terms. Catherine Raymond (Gabon) took over. Soon she was off to Tanzania on Peace Corps staff. Her VP Brian Rapoza (Philippines) was elected to fill her spot. He went on to serve 3 full terms making him our longest serving president.
In the future, there was 501 c 3 qualification; Florida tax exemption; our only contested election; an election where no one wanted to be president leading to my third term; visitations from PC/W; an explosion of projects and events; our second Ruppe award; 3 members on the NPCA board; one member winning the Lillian Carter Award; by-laws; directors retreats; regional conferences; and some absolutely grand directors along the way.