How Special Am I? One in 448.

I’m from Mississippi. Sometimes that’s not the most exciting or popular fact. Some things are easier there, though.

In high school, I was valedictorian. It’s something of which I am proud. The thing that made it easier is that there were only 20 people in my graduating class.

With Peace Corps 50th anniversary underway, statistics have been released showing how many volunteers have served from each state. Mississippi is dead last with 448. Mississippi’s southeastern neighbors all average around 1,000. Smaller states like Vermont and New Hampshire have sent about three times more volunteers. Delaware has sent 30 more than Mississippi with a much smaller population. Puerto Rico has sent 373 volunteers. Here’s a list of Peace Corps volunteer home states.

Why? First, being a poorer state, Mississippi has fewer people with the ability to decide to spend two years helping when they feel their families need them close by to help make ends meet. Second, Mississippi has a good bit higher minority population than the national average. Minorities serve a fraction as much as other groups.

Neither of the prior two things mean people wouldn’t serve given the chance. A lot of young people in Mississippi are looking for a chance to get out for a little while and see what else is happening in the world. They just have to be given a chance.

In that regard, Mississippi is at the border of Peace Corps recruiting districts. While part of the Atlanta office, those people have to drive two states to get to Mississippi. The Dallas office is on the other side. It’s only one state away, but it’s about equidistant from the state as Atlanta. I haven’t looked at any mileage tables, but I think the Chicago office is not significantly farther away.

Combine that with the fact that in four years of undergraduate study, I never saw nor heard of Peace Corps. The recruiters just don’t come. Compare that with six months of graduate work in Ohio where a recruiter has already come twice. Why? Probably they think Mississippi is just too far to drive.

A fun anecdote. In 2007 when I joined the Peace Corps, I was living in Los Angeles and was recruited out of their local office. I let one of my favorite former professors know. He was sharing the news with his colleagues at the college. He told me one of them asked, “Peace Corps? Does that even still exist?”

Peace Corps, you are doing a disservice to the good people of Mississippi. With your budget level at an all time high, you have the funds to drive over from Atlanta or Dallas. We didn’t force you to mark us as the fringe.

I’m special. I am one of 448 Mississippians who took up the Peace Corps’ challenge. On behalf of my neighbors who have never been given the opportunity to serve, I suggest you step up and give them a chance.

1 thought on “How Special Am I? One in 448.”

  1. I read your op-ed in the Clarion. I agree that Mississippi has the
    potential to increase the number of Peace Corps Volutneers serving
    overseas. That said, we have seen the numbers increase: there are
    currently 33 Volunteers serving, which represents a 65% increase
    compared to 2009. Also, over the past 18 months we have increased
    our recruitment efforts due to budget increases. Our recruiters in
    Atlanta have particpated in 10 career fairs, 18 GlobeTalks (general
    information meetings), 30 class talks including 8 at USM, and 15
    tabling events. We currently have a recruiter at Southern Miss this
    week. Finally, if you would like to help out let me know–we rely
    on RPCVs to get the word out and particpate in events. Unlike the
    military, our recruitment budget is very small. David
    Leavitt-D’Agostino Public Affairs Specialist US Peace Corps/Atlanta

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