Prepared for the Peace Corps
by Claire Kowalchik
Niki Maffetone heads to Ukraine this in September where she will serve two years in the Peace Corps, working with children in an after-school program, and she is crazy happy about it. “The day I learned I was going, I cried at softball practice, I was so excited,” she says. Amy Saul, associate dean of career and civic engagement, confirms that enthusiasm, “Niki ran into my office and yelled, ‘I’m going!”
Maffetone, a senior, is the first Moravian College student to complete the college’s Peace Corps Preparation Program (PCPP), which began welcoming students in the fall of 2015, the start of Maffetone’s junior year. The emails about PCPP that popped up in her inbox caught her attention, and she met with Saul, coordinator of the program. “The way she spoke about it, saying that it can change your life, intrigued me,” says Maffetone. “I didn’t have a career path figured out, but I knew I wanted to do something bigger than myself, something where I’m helping people, and I saw this as an opportunity, so I decided to go through the program.”
PCPP follows a set of course guidelines that overlap significantly with requirements for most majors, and the commitment is equivalent to that for a minor. Students must fulfill certain language, community service, and core course requirements, and they select additional courses based on the Peace Corps sector in which they would like to serve: education, health, environment, agriculture, youth in development, or community economic development. Interested students must fill out an application and interview with a committee (for details go to the Peace Corp Preparation Program page on the Moravian College Website).
The program perfectly complemented Maffetone’s major in sociology and minor in peace and justice studies, and it seems a perfect fit with her personality, too. For the past three years, Maffetone worked in a halfway house—the Urban Renewal Corporation—in Newark, New Jersey. As a site manager, she oversees 60 male former inmates in the institution’s work release program. “I am in charge of keeping tabs on them,” explains Maffetone. “The program helps integrate inmates back into society. They have to go to school or have a job to participate in it. I’ve loved the job; it taught me a lot about working with people in a different community.”
“It shows that Niki can put herself out there,” says Daniel Jasper, associate professor of sociology and academic advisor to PCPP. “She is the only woman—a college woman—in that space dealing with 60 men who are trying to transition out of prison. She can make herself comfortable in an uncomfortable situation.”
Maffetone quickly became comfortable working in Guatemala during winter break as a member of Moravian College’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity. The experience opened her eyes to a very different way of life—far less privileged—than what she’s known in the United States. The group built nine stoves out of adobe, mud, and brick for families in San Juan. “They were so appreciative,” says Maffetone. “I fell in love with Guatemala,” she adds enthusiastically. “I wanted to move there and live there for the rest of my life.”
The Guatemala experience offers another glimpse of Maffetone’s adaptability to the Peace Corps. “She engaged in the developing world, and she now understands that it is possible to connect with people across language, class, and social divides and really make an impact,” Jasper points out.
Ukraine was Maffetone’s first choice for placement. She’ll be living with a Ukrainian family, and the gregarious young woman is grateful to have an opportunity to become even more immersed in the people, culture, and lifestyle of the Eastern European country that will be her home away from home for two years. She’s excited but also a little nervous. And understandably so. Despite all the research she’s done and the many questions she’s asked, so much remains unknown. What is certain in her mind, though, is that her service in the Peace Corps will benefit all involved. “I know this will be great for the community I’ll be working with, but it will be good for me, too,” she says confidently. “I know it will change my life.”