Peace Corps Send-off & 6th Annual Skylands RPCV Family Picnic

by Doug Garatina

The RPCV North Jersey Picnic and Send-Off on May 15 — in a word — was —-” Brrrrrrrrrr!”  Unseasonable weather, which included chilling winds and a brief period of hail, dominated the day.  Nevertheless, 40 people attended the event, and in true Peace Corps fashion, pulled off one of the most meaningful events we have hosted.  More specifically, the main objective of this activity was to bring RPCV’s together with Peace Corps invitees, applicants and prospective volunteers in an informal setting so that the new people could learn more about the Peace Corps experience from RPCV’s.  To this end,  we can assure you that the event achieved its goal.  Peace Corps recruiter Dan Turkel was instrumental in helping to arrange the Send Off for the Peace Corps invitees which was coupled with the traditional Skylands picnic. He also braved the cold to come early and stay late for the set up and pack up efforts.

It was clearly evident that the “newbees” got a variety of advice, helpful hints, and no shortage of PC stories from the RPCV’s.  This interaction seemed to put them more at ease about their future adventure and more confident in their commitment to serve their country in a foreign land.  It was also pleasing to note that the RPCV’s seemed to be exuding a warm heartfelt glow ( definitely needed in those weather conditions) as they proudly shared their knowledge and experiences in such a direct and meaningful way to a group of people who truly appreciated the information.

To enhance the theme for the picnic, several RPCV’s brought displays of items from their country of service.  We were surrounded with wonderful displays from Guatemala, Chile, Peru, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Vanuatu, Albania, Ethiopia, Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, and Mali. Many thanks to all the people who took the time to put together these displays for the event.  This “Around the World” display was very impressive and was yet another way to share our experiences with the new people.

Even though the weather wasn’t ideal, the food was just the opposite — delicious, plentiful, and varied. The picnic was a pot luck event.  People brought American food as well as ethnic dishes from their countries of service.  Lots of time and effort obviously went into preparation.  Once again, thanks to everyone for bringing such culinary delights for everyone to enjoy.

We ended the picnic with a “Send-Off Ceremony” for the people who have been fully accepted into the Peace Corps and will be leaving for their country of service in the not too distant future.  The ceremony was a candle passing ceremony (Peace Corps resourcefulness and ingenuity was required to keep the candle lit at the top of a hill with winds gusting close to 30 MPH — and we accomplished it!) in which the candle was passed down a chronological line of RPCV’s to the new invitees as each person stated their name, country and dates of service or future dates of service.

We try our best to pick warm and beautiful days for our annual picnic (LOL), but the weather for the past two picnics has been unfavorable.  So, for next year we are looking to have an INDOOR Picnic / Send-Off in a more central location.  If anyone knows of a free or inexpensive indoor venue (preferably with an adjacent protected outdoor area to be used if the weather is nice), please contact Doug at Group*

Left to Right:


Sean Esrafily- Applicant

Gerry Gillio- RPCV Iran

Sienna Breen

Jason Rodriguez- Prospective applicant


McCartney- Invitee family member

Cassandra McCartney- Invitee (Macedonia)

Barbara Engelbart

Ed Engelbart- RPCV (Ethiopia)

Nancie Gunkelman- RPCV (Kenya)

Doug Garatina- RPCV (Ghana)

Kathleen Nelson

Ginnie Garatina

Sandy Polsky

Christie Musa- RPCV (Sierra Leone)

Matt Polsky- Prospective applicant

Allison Wawrin-RPCV (Papua New Guinea)

Tamsin Wawrin

Bob Goodsell – Applicant

Ron Nelson- RPCV (Philippines) & RPC Response

(Malawi, Liberia, Namibia & Rwanda)

front Angela DeSapio- Invitee (Guinea)

back Vic Bozzuffi- RPCV (Peru)

George Gunkelman- RPCV (Brazil/Kenya)

Gerrry Nathanson- RPCV (Chile)

Dan Turkel- RPCV (Albania)

Stan Nathanson- RPCV (Chile)

front Heaven DiFilippis- Applicant

back Sergio Leone- RPCV (Micronesia)

Kathleen Peters- RPCV spouse

Philip Peters- RPCV (Guatemala)


Sia Musa Breen- taking photo

Stella Breen- in stroller

McCartney- Invitee family member

Richlene Joannides


David Brandwood- RPCV (Vanuatu)

David Smits- RPCV Guatemala

Pat Smits- RPCV Guatemala

Nada Mays- Invitee (Swaziland)

Emar Mays- Invitee family member

Iyi Okunlola- Invitee (Ghana)

Akinola Okunloa- Invitee father (Nigeria)

 40 Attendees, 20 Countries

IMG_9494 Serge & displayIMG_9514 Doug&Dan

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