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Twelve members of the Midwest Region Peace Corps are riding through Iowa

BY RAPHAEL GELFAND | JULY 21, 2015 5:00 AM

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After years of work in a dozen countries around the world, a team of Peace Corps volunteers have returned to their native Midwest to share their experiences and knowledge with locals as they ride in this year’s RAGBRAI.

The Peace Corps is a federal organization that sends individuals into developing countries for two years to aid in humanitarian and ecological efforts.

“We go overseas to help with things related to health, environment, and development,” said Heather Mangan, the public affairs specialist for Peace Corps Midwest Region. “Whether it’s to teach English classes in a nearby village or conduct a five-community tour to educate about HIV/AIDS prevention.”

Similar to their time overseas, as the 12-person team from the Midwest Region Peace Corps rides through Iowa, the members will educate the people in the towns they pass through about their experiences living in the various regions and their time on the corps.

“A lot of the members out of the regional office are big bikers,” said Ryan Cairns, regional corps recruiter for the state of Iowa and a rider on the team. “So we decided to get a team together to engage people riding here from Iowa and all over the world and just trying to get out some brand awareness for the Peace Corps.”

Throughout the summer, Cairns said, he and other recruiters in the state have been working on community and diversity events, such as RAGBRAI, and during the fall, they try to focus more on Iowa’s colleges and universities.

However, this is the first year the corps has had a team for RAGBRAI. Of the 12 riders, nine are returned overseas volunteers, and five are full time staffers.

Jeff Rhodes, a RAGBRAI rider and corps recruiter, said the team starts in the morning out together, before two members drive ahead in the official Peace Car and set up a stand in communities along the route, while the others ride through talking to individuals along the way.

“We are trying to touch as many universities, communities, and people in the area as possible,” Rhodes said.

So far on their journey through Iowa, the Peace Corps riders have had incredible support from fellow riders and community members, he said.

“The thing that’s happening is that we are meeting dozens and dozens of people who are saying ‘my son, or brother, or my wife and I are or were in Peace Corps,’ ” he said.

Ultimately, Rhodes said, the team’s goal is to raise awareness for the Peace Corps in Iowa and help to inspire the next generation of volunteers.

“For all of us here, it is our first time, and the experience completely exceeded our expectations,” he said.


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