July 24, 2002 - Fanquier Times-Democrat: Wanda Wood at 66 is off to the Pacific Islands to teach health care in Peace Corps

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Wanda Wood at 66 is off to the Pacific Islands to teach health care in Peace Corps

Read and comment on this story from the Fanquier Times-Democrat on Wanda Wood, shown in the photot above, who at 66 is off to the Pacific Islands to teach health care in Peace Corps at:

It may be the toughest job she'll ever love*

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It may be the toughest job she'll ever love

By Deborah Shepherd July 24, 2002

Times-Democrat Staff Photo/Mark F. Sypher

IT'S HER TURN: Wanda Wood, brand-new Peace Corps volunteer, wraps up domestic details at her long-time home in Gainesville as she readies herself for service and adventure.

Anyone who asks Wanda Wood what's new these days had better brace themselves. At 66 years of age, this nurse and business woman has joined the Peace Corps and is off to the Pacific Islands to teach health care.

Wood has sold her house in Gainesville. Formerly a co-owner of Sherwood Institute, which teaches medical coding, she's sold her share of the business to her partner.

Late last week she was living amid boxes, eagerly waiting for the final packet of information to come from the Peace Corps so she would know where her training will be held.

Wood is committed to a two-year stint that starts with four months of training, during which she'll learn a new language, as well as the do's and don'ts of a completely different culture.

"You know, strangely enough I really don't feel a lot of fears. I'm very excited," Wood said.

The path to service

She's gotten some interesting reactions to this giant step she's taking across the planet. People have said, "Why would you do that?"

Her answer has to do with timing, a presidential suggestion, a son at the crossroad of his education and the wisdom of a friend.

"Sept. 11 had a tremendous amount to do with it," she began. "I happened to hear President Bush give a talk, if people would give two years of their time ...

"I began thinking about it. I don't give a lot, I've not been in the service or anything."

When her son Kyle was trying to get into law school, she suggested he join the Peace Corps first and he liked the idea. She did research online, mailed his application and he was accepted to law school.

"And so I was laughing about it with a friend of mine, Carolyn Chandler. She got very serious and said, 'Wanda, you should go.'

"So I went home and started doing research for myself."

At the Peace Corps Web site Wood liked what she saw.

"It just seemed like they were anxious to have people that had a profession, number one. And second of all the idea of learning a culture and living among the people, wherever it was, seemed to me exciting.

"And they really do a lot of things. One of the ladies I corresponded with that serves in Africa is also a senior, and she's helped build the first maternity and child care unit in that area. We don't have the opportunity to be a part of something like that often.

"You never know what you're going to be asked to do maybe nothing. But if you interact and make a difference with one life, that would be worth it.

"I feel like I'll learn more than I'll give."

Wood submitted an online application and was surprised to get an interview request five days later. After that came more forms: medical and dental information, three references, an FBI check.

Eight weeks later she was cleared for take-off.

"The first person I told was my friend Carolyn, because we'd been in this thing together. Then I approached the children, and I think if I had not received support from them I might have thought twice about it ....

"But they were very supportive and it was like, 'OK, it's my turn.' "

Her grown children Kyle, Stephen, Sam and Wynette live all over the country.

"The nice thing that has come out of it is, I've become more of a person and not just a mom," said Wood, smiling.

The readiness is all

Wood said she applied with a "here I am, send me" spirit without requesting a destination. "I thought I'd probably end up in Uzbekistan or some place like that, because it's a new area," she said.

She won't know exactly where in the Pacific Islands she'll be assigned until after her training. One of the few qualms she has is whether she'll be able to learn a different language.

But she's already prepared to experience a different culture.

"You have to live exactly the way the people do, maintain the same type of lifestyle as the country you're serving in," she explained.

"One thing they did ask me which I thought was interesting was, how do feel about never being able to wear pants or shorts? In our culture we think nothing about it, but where I'm going it's tremendously frowned upon."

In another instance of the serendipity that has blessed this whole venture, the Peace Corps held a reunion in June and Wood went to the picnic.

"They were fantastic!" she said of the volunteers she met. "Some of these people had served 15-20 years ago and were thinking about going back."

Eyes twinkling, Wood said, "Maybe they even liked it more looking back on it than they did when they were there."

Wood is an avid reader as are many Peace Corps volunteers so she's taking "War and Peace" because it's something she can re-read. She's been told, "Don't bring your whole life with you," but was also given suggestions she might not have thought of herself.

"They ask you to bring pictures of your home, your friends and your family, not only for your own comfort but also to share with the people you would be interacting with.

"We are also told, bring anything that would bring you comfort because you're going to get homesick. So I made a very small memory book of all the things that I felt had been important."

Between now and October she'll jaunt around the country, going to Florida and Canada, Texas and Denver. "Just sitting and waiting would be horrible," Wood said with her ready laugh.

Then she said, "Beth Chadsey made such an interesting comment at church. She said we need to get out of our comfort zones, that many times we're not even aware of talents we have if we stay within our own comfort zones all the time.

"That's really true ... we go on day to day and we get into a rut. There's nothing wrong with that, but sometimes you need this little shakeup to realize that you have growth potential, and that maybe you can do other things, go other places ...

"I feel so privileged at this stage of my life to have this whole new adventure.

"I have every faith that it will go well."

Anyone interested in learning more about the Peace Corps can call (800) 424-8580 or go online to http://www.peacecorps.com .

©Arcom Publishing Inc. - Fauquier Times-Democrat 2002

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