Above: Jessi sits atop Mayan ruins in department of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, during his time in the Peace Corps.

Pandemic Forced Jessi Rodriguez to Leave Peace Corps

By Sandy Wiegand, Copyeditor and Writer at Joining Vision and Action

Denver, Colorado, is not where JVA’s new associate consultant, Jessi Rodriguez, expected to be right now.

In March 2020, Jessi was in Guatemala, where he had been serving in the Peace Corps for the past year and a half. But as the pandemic spread, all Peace Corps volunteers were evacuated from their host countries and sent back to the United States.

Jessi made the best of the situation, applying to the University of Denver, where he is now pursuing his master’s in international development. It turned out to be JVA’s good fortune that he landed in Denver.

“I applied to JVA soon after arriving here because it seemed like an amazing place to refine the skills and knowledge I’ve collected in my previous experiences as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala and with nonprofits in the U.S.,” Jessi explains.

“I was excited about the prospect of matching these experiences with my graduate studies and applying these in a local context. Essentially, JVA appeared to be a real nexus of my interests and abilities, and I could not let an opportunity like that pass me by!”

International service

Having developed a variety of skills through a diversity of experiences, Jessi is able to support JVA interdepartmentally. His responsibilities include assisting with research and community engagement; contributing content for federal, state and foundation grant proposals; and developing opportunities for new business. He also provides bilingual (English/Spanish) translation and transcreation.

What are some of Jessi’s diverse experiences, you ask?

“While living in ‘The Land of Eternal Spring,’ I served as both a community health educator and economic development facilitator,” Jessi says of his time in Guatemala. “As a community health educator, I worked under the local school district superintendent, designing and implementing programs at the intersection of health and education for primary schools and parent groups.”

“And as an economic development facilitator, I worked with a local women’s empowerment nonprofit in the community I lived in to write a grant providing economic and healing opportunities to survivors of domestic abuse and their children.”

The grant was designed to leverage the nonprofit’s expertise in psychology and sociology by providing capacity-building workshops to guide survivors in their healing while they learned profitable skills to support themselves and their families.

The proposal was on track to be funded through the Peace Corps’ funding pool, having made its way through most of the approval process, when Jessi was evacuated.

“Overall,” he says. “I loved my time abroad and am still saddened by my abrupt departure. However, I’m excited for the day to come where I can safely visit and see my friends and loved ones again.”

Prior to joining the Peace Corps, Jessi spent a couple of months in Amman, Jordan, as a humanitarian assistance intern with the Jordanian country office of the international nongovernmental organization Plan International (Plan). While there, he organized a multi-day workshop with various governments, organizations and institutions responding to the Iraqi and Syrian crises.

“The workshops focused on harmonizing and coordinating participants’ efforts as they related to early childhood care and development in emergencies,” he says. “I also supported the organization in assessing a refugee camp for possible interventions and services Plan could provide.”

“This was a transformative experience, to say the least.”

‘Inspired to do more and better’

Given this background, it has taken Jessi little time to jump in and contribute meaningfully to JVA’s endeavors.

His favorite part so far? JVA’s partners.

“Hands down what has excited me the most about this position is the exposure to the plethora of changemakers we work with. Each interaction with our clients has left me inspired to do more and be better, and I thank them for the opportunity to advance their visions and missions,” he says.

“Also, my position as associate consultant allows ample opportunities to work across departments at JVA. I find this thrilling because it allows for me to not only enhance the skills I hold, but also learn some new ones from some pretty stellar practitioners!”

Jessi isn’t certain what his long-term future holds, and he notes that for now, he’s just thinking about how to apply his studies to JVA’s work. But if more international work is in his future, he says, he would love to use his skills and know-how to do development work in his parents’ native home of Jalisco, Mexico.

Asked what he’s most proud of, Jessi again mentions his family:

“I’m the child of Mexican immigrants and the first in my family, both nuclear and extended, to pursue an advanced degree. I’m proud of this accomplishment because it truly has been a group effort between me, my loved ones and supporters to get here, and it reaffirms that there are good people in the world.”

“I’m grateful for the support I’ve received and hope to pay it forward in full someday.”

It seems to us at JVA, Jessi, that you’ve been paying it forward for a while now.

Want to work with the JVA team? Reach out; we’d love to chat about how we can help your organization to succeed, sustain and scale!