Leading a Helping Hand
Tests, pop quizzes, and homework may be instant reminders of high school for many Americans in the world today, but for Jim Miller's Corcoran High School students, West African nations, latrines, solar panels, and the Partnership Program with the Peace Corps more accurately reflect their high school experience. For the past 21 years, the students of Corcoran High School have worked with the Office of Gifts and Grants Management to raise funds for Peace Corps volunteer projects abroad.
This year, the Peace Corps' Office of Gifts and Grants Management (GGM) celebrates 40 years of facilitating partnerships between interested citizens in the United States and Peace Corps volunteers to support the communities in which they serve. Coinciding with this milestone for GGM is the 21st anniversary of the Corcoran High School and Roberts Elementary School participation in the program. The two Syracuse, N.Y., school programs are headed by Miller, a ninth grade social studies teacher.
GGM's mission is to build enduring financial alliances with the private sector to connect donors with community-based projects where volunteers serve. One hundred percent of the donations that go to GGM are directly allocated to a Peace Corps project selected by the donors. Originally, GGM was known as the School to School program and facilitated funding by U.S. schools to build schools in communities where Peace Corps volunteers served. The first year of the program saw 40 schools break ground for construction, and by 1971, over 1,300 schools were founded in 44 countries. The program changed its name to the Partnership Program in 1977, to better represent the diversity of projects funded, and now approximately 250 projects are successfully completed each year.
Currently, GGM has an endless list of projects they are helping to fund. Miller's students have been exceptionally productive in their endeavors by raising money for a school for the blind, a maternity ward, water wells for potable water and several other Peace Corps projects in developing nations, all the while striving to uphold their motto of "making a difference, one village at a time." Miller estimates that the students in the program - which include not only his ninth grade world history students, but also the International Relations Club at Corcoran High, and the students in Roberts Elementary next door - have done just that. Over the past 21 years, Miller's students have raised nearly $100,000.
The Corcoran High School students do much more than organize a bake sell to raise awareness and funds for Peace Corps projects. Each year students sell note cards that they design. After deciding on a theme for the artwork they then select various designs to be featured that year. For example, one year Miller's students chose wildlife as a theme and designed the note cards depicting birds, insects, and plants of the world. In addition to the note cards, students also sell peace themed tee shirts by Holy Shirt! Company, which was founded by two Corcoran High School alumnae.
"We discovered we had an art department right here," said Miller. "The kids could do all this stuff. From then on, every project has been funded by the note cards drawn by the students."
The success of the program has come a long way since the early days of fundraising, which began with Miller and two students selling buttons at a local grocery store. The program also enhances the students' education beyond participating in the fundraiser. Students are challenged to learn about new cultures and geography. By communicating with Peace Corps volunteers serving abroad, Miller's students have an opportunity to experience what life is like in distant countries through these volunteers. Using this experience, the students team up to create lesson plans to facilitate student teaching at Roberts Elementary about the culture of the nation they have adopted for the year.
Roberts Elementary students participate by collecting loose change and tossing it into a giant 12-foot cylinder to raise funds for a supplement project that directly correlates with Corcoran High School's project. One year, the elementary students collected 65,000 pennies and bought a Braille writer for a school for the blind that Corcoran students funded. The high school students then share with the younger students what they've learned by hosting theme lunches and engaging their younger counterparts in their lesson plans. This encourages service learning at an early age and provides an opportunity for both schools to work together.
"Service learning is such an important thing now. We were doing it before there was even a term," said Miller. "We didn't realize we were doing what is now the 'in' thing."
Currently, Miller's students are working with Peace Corps volunteer Meredith Rogers from Sebastopol, Calif., to raise $3,000 for repairs and upgrades to a health center in the West African nation of Mali. The upgrades will include vital installation of solar panels, and will benefit more than 1,450 people who live in the village.
Although Jim Miller is retiring from Corcoran High School this year, his commitment to service will never cease. Miller will be overseeing student teachers at the State University of New York (SUNY) Courtland and, of course, continuing to promote the Peace Corps' Partnership program. Luckily for the Peace Corps, a teacher is waiting in the wings to take over the program at Corcoran High School to ensure that the spirit of service and learning continues for years to come.
The program coordinated by Miller is just one of hundreds of GGM projects with donors across the globe. Peace Corps volunteer projects that GGM donations help fund include everything from school resource centers to maternity wards, and sanitation projects to agriculture projects. The amount of funds needed for each project is equally as diverse, with some projects requiring a few hundred dollars to much larger-scale projects. Donations come from a variety of sources, including corporations, small businesses, faith-based groups, schools, foundations, returned Peace Corps volunteer groups, civic groups, family and friends of Peace Corps volunteers, and individuals that believe in the mission of the Peace Corps. Learn more about donating to GGM or call 1.800.424.8580 ext. 2170 for more information.
Since 1961, more than 171,000 volunteers have served in the Peace Corps, working in such diverse fields as education, health, HIV/AIDS education and prevention, information technology, business development, the environment, and agriculture. Peace Corps volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a two-year commitment.
Last updated Jan 22 2013