In August 2014, you can add the Dominican Republic to the list of places where Thurgood Marshall Academy alumni are contributing to the development and growth of local communities. Dominique Griffin (TMA ’09), a 2013 graduate of the University of Vermont, will be headed to the Caribbean nation to begin her two-year Peace Corps placement, where she will be working with local children and families on mental, sexual, and physical health issues. She first gained experience in this field while still in undergrad, at the University of Vermont, where she worked in the outreach department of the school’s student health center to create and deliver a variety of health-related workshops to her peers. “From what I understand about my Peace Corps placement, I’ll probably be doing similar work in the Dominican Republic,” says Dominique.
Dominique’s interest in service extends from her experience at Thurgood Marshall Academy, where one of the school’s graduation requirements – completing 100 hours of community service – first exposed her to the immense value not just to the community, but to her own development, of this emotionally fulfilling kind of work. She continued to pursue community service opportunities while at the University of Vermont. Dominique participated in two “alternative breaks,” traveling to Detroit and New Orleans to volunteer with local organizations making a difference in the lives of local residents.
In Detroit, Dominique worked with an organization called Alternatives for Girls, which provides shelter, tutoring, mentoring, and support for homeless and high-risk girls and young women. “It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” says Dominique. “We stayed in the shelter with the girls and cooked with them, created different workshops for them to participate in, organized clothes and supplies donations, and helped with after school tutoring.” In New Orleans, Dominique worked with Habitat for Humanity and its ReStore affiliate to build and clean new homes, and to sort through donations of housewares for ReStore’s building materials and home furnishings store.
In considering next-steps following her college graduation, Dominique knew she wanted to gain experience living and working in another country. She initially explored programs for teaching abroad, but “was hesitant about them because I felt that compared to Peace Corps, there would be a disconnect between me and the people I would serving. Teaching would be more of a job, whereas in Peace Corps, you’re immersed with the people and the culture.” When considering her future Peace Corps placements, Dominique indicated preference for Latin and South American countries based on linguistic and cultural familiarity: “At Thurgood Marshall Academy, I took a few Spanish classes, and when I went to [the University of] Vermont, I took a couple classes on Latin American politics and international development – that was the push for me to be interested in that region,” she says. When she returns, Dominique is hoping to translate her time in the Peace Corps into a career in public administration and international development after pursuing a master’s program in one of these subject areas.
Dominique’s advice for other college graduates aspiring to join the Peace Corps is to “have patience – it’s a process. I thought everything would happen quickly but it takes a long time. I started the application about a year ago, and it took me about a week to finish. You not only need to give them your resume background, but also your language preferences to make sure you’ll be placed in an appropriate country.” Once accepted, “there are so many things you have to do from shots to paperwork to getting work visas for your country.” Despite the extensive application and interview process, Dominique wholeheartedly recommends the program to students interested in living and learning abroad: “Definitely go for it,” she says.