Answering the Call: Exhibiting at the Kennedy Center’s REACH Opening Festival

What did you do last month? Associate archivist Leslie Nellis, American University library consultant Robert Newlen, and I took the archives on the road for the opening festival at the REACH building of the Kennedy Center. The event was a collaboration between the National Peace Corps Association (NPCA), the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington, DC (RCPV/W), and the REACH.

The PCCA exhibit features several posters on easels behind a blue table with seven more documents, two binders, and an IPad. A woman stands in front of the exhibit. Robert Newlen and Leslie Nellis stand behind the exhibit to answer questions.

Robert Newlen (left) and Leslie Nellis (right) speak with visitors about the Archives, September 22, 2019

In a room known the Peace Corps Place, PCCA launched “Answering the Call” –a temporary exhibit highlighting RCPVs experiences using their donated materials. Sixteen other exhibitors joined us, including booths by the Peace Corps Oral History Project and the Museum of the Peace Corps Experience.

We spent the day greeting visitors and describing our efforts to collect, preserve, and make available the materials donated by RPCVs. Close to 300 visitors—many of them RPCVs with their families—flipped through examples from the current collections, listened to Geer Wilcox’s recorded letters sent home, and shared their own memories of their time in the Peace Corps.

Packing lists from the ‘80s spurred conversations between old and new RCPVs about what has changed and what has not. One woman laughed and said “They told me to pack a meat-grinder.” Others snapped photos of President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 letter to volunteers or the poster that read “She taught me how to write my name, I taught her how to say it.”

Merged photo of two women. One holds a signed postcard and the other holds a binder with the same image featured on the postcard.

RCPV woman (left) and Debby Prigal (right) pose with Prigal’s donation.

About halfway through the day, RPCV Debby Prigal discovered her own donated materials within the exhibit and reproduced on free postcards. “That’s me! That’s mine!” She exclaimed, pointing at her entry in the copy of a “Close of Service” Newsletter. For a moment, Debby achieved celebrity status as others asked for her to autograph their postcards.

The entire day was a perfect example of PCCA’s goals to enrich the Archives through partnerships with Peace Corps affiliates, exhibit materials that document the impact of individuals who volunteered, increase the awareness of the history of the Peace Corps, and of course, make some new friends!

If you or someone you know is interested in finding out more about donating to the collection, please visit the “Donate” tab or email us at