Joby Taylor is Director of UMBC’s Shriver Peaceworker Program.
What a wonderful surprise for me to get a call from the Peace Corps a couple weeks ago asking about having the new Director, Carrie Hessler-Radelet, come to Baltimore to meet our Shriver Peaceworker Fellows and learn about their community development and service work! After a bit of quick planning, our Peaceworker Fellows and graduate students Greg Couturier (School of Social Work) and Brooks Binau (Geography and Environmental Systems Department) hosted Director Hessler-Radelet and a small group of us for a full morning of program tours and engaged conversations at Lakeland Elementary-Middle School. Lakeland is a public school in Baltimore City, where Greg and Brooks have been working alongside other UMBC students and staff, including myself and Peaceworker Assistant Director Meghann Shutt, for the past year as part of a multi-faceted UMBC partnership.
It was a personal pleasure for me to spend time with Director Hessler-Radelet, who is President Obama’s recently confirmed appointee to lead the Peace Corps, especially because the Peace Corps was first directed by Sargent Shriver, who also founded UMBC’s Shriver Center and Peaceworker Program. Her visit to Lakeland to shadow our Peaceworker Fellows was an opportunity to highlight Returned Peace Corps Volunteers’ ongoing service and see first hand the work that they are doing alongside other UMBC programs aimed at addressing pressing social problems. As they led us around the school, she also learned about the innovative work of UMBC’s Choice Program, the Sherman Scholars Program, Shriver Center Service-Learning, and a grant initiative funded by 21st Century. Led by dynamic Lakeland School staff and leaders, Greg and Brooks are contributing to our partnership goals of engaging parents, connecting the school more broadly to the surrounding community, and improving school climate.
As we all toured the school’s new projects and vibrant new gardens Director Hessler-Radelet learned how Greg and Brooks were bringing back home the skills and experience they gained abroad in Peru (Greg) and Zambia (Brooks) and putting it to work in Baltimore by contributing to this dynamic community school building effort. She saw the food pantry that is expanding as a resource for Lakeland families and met the Experience Corps staff who are creating inter-generational opportunities that engage seniors in supporting students and classrooms. She smelled and tasted the expanding school gardens and related projects like solar ovens and dehydrators (I ate a large handful of fresh cherry tomatoes off the vine!). Back inside, Greg introduced her to the Choice Program staff and fellows who work to improve attendance and behavior issues with some of the schools most vulnerable students. In a roundtable discussion with leading community members, Pam Oliver and Ms. Emma, and Lakeland Principal, Najib Jammal, she learned about partnerships that are making Lakeland one of the most dynamic community schools in Baltimore.
As the Director and her team left Lakeland they headed off for a small hole-in-the-wall taqueria run by a local family. Our Peaceworker group had just had a great working lunch there a few days earlier. “There are no seats and it’s not quick,” we told her, “but the papusas and tacos are made to order and high on taste.” “That sounds perfect!” the Director instantly responded. With that spirit of enthusiasm for local taste and an eye for real community, I know that she’ll be a great leader of the Peace Corps!
Contact the author, Joby Taylor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.