February 23, 2003: Headlines: Recruitment: Missourian: Peace Corps searching for record recruitment

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Peace Corps searching for record recruitment

Peace Corps searching for record recruitment

Peace Corps searching for record recruitment

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By Mark Bliss ~ Southeast Missourian

Daniel Essner can't wait to embrace the poverty of Africa.

The 43-year-old Cape Girardeau construction worker sold his house last month. He's planning to sell his two cars, including a bright red 1965 Chevy Nova. He's given away many other possessions.

"I want none of this to hold me down," he said.

Essner, who still must undergo a medical checkup, hopes he'll be embarking on his new life in the Peace Corps in May or June. For now, he's living with his sister in Cape Girardeau.

He doesn't know where he'll be working in Africa, but he's been advised it will be a rural, poor area where he can put his farming and construction skills to use. Essner grew up on a Chaffee-area farm.

"I just know I can make a difference," he said.

The Peace Corps is counting on people like Essner as it seeks to more than double the number of volunteers in the field from its current 7,000 level to 15,000 within five years. That would bring the number of volunteers back to its record levels in the early days of the program in the mid-1960s, said Joe Zucchini, a Peace Corps recruiter from Chicago.

Zucchini visited Southeast Missouri State University last week to recruit new volunteers for the Peace Corps. Most of the agency's recruits are graduating college students, although there are volunteers such as Essner who have only a high school education but a wealth of construction and farming experience.

About 35 Southeast students inquired about the Peace Corps on Wednesday at the University Center, where Zucchini had a display set up.

During his two-day visit, one student filled out a written application and interviewed for the Peace Corps.

Applications are up nationwide. Zucchini said that's partly due to the poor economy.

"As the job market goes soft, people start considering other options," he said.

Volunteers must be at least 18 years old. They are asked to commit to 27 months of service, which includes three months of training. Volunteers earn a small monthly stipend and receive health insurance.

At the end of their two-year commitment, volunteers receive a "readjustment allowance" of $6,000 and a one-year enhanced hiring status for federal jobs.

Volunteers can continue to serve in the Peace Corps if they want. Essner said he'll probably do so.

"All you have to do is watch the news and see that there are places that need help."

A divorced father, Essner wanted to join the Peace Corps 15 years ago but put his dream on hold to pay child support for his daughter. She recently graduated from college.

The Peace Corps has volunteers in 75 countries around the world. Its current annual budget of $265 million is small by federal government standards.

"It's less than the advertising budget of the Army," Zucchini said.

Teaching English in developing countries is the Peace Corps' largest single program. Other programs deal with business, environment, agriculture, community development and health.

The Peace Corps advertises itself as "the toughest job you'll ever love."

For Zucchini, it's more than a slogan.

He taught English in Micronesia from 1990 to 1992. Five years later, he returned to the field, this time with a water sanitation program in Zambia.

"It's an opportunity to make a difference in a huge way," he said.

Alison Rademaker, who teaches art at Central Junior High School, served in the Peace Corps in the Philippines for a year before her mother's ill health forced her to return home.

Rademaker taught English on a small island in the Philippines where the principal occupations were rice farming and fishing.

"It leaves an impression on you," Rademaker said. "I think you learn mostly about yourself."

Krista Hyde, a 21-year-old philosophy major who will graduate from Southeast Missouri State University in May, has applied for the Peace Corps. She went through a job interview with Zucchini on Thursday morning at the University Center.

Afterward, an excited Hyde said she hopes to work for the Peace Corps in Africa. She isn't concerned about the prospect of living in primitive conditions.

"Luxury is not the way to happiness," said Hyde, who grew up in Dexter, Mo. "I am definitely ready to give back a little."

Kennedy-era start

Jill Venezian, coordinator of international community programs at Southeast, served in the Peace Corps in the rural mountains of Colombia from 1965 to 1967, teaching an adult literacy program.

Venezian, who was fluent in Spanish, joined the Peace Corps only four years after the Kennedy administration started it. College students, she said, were excited about the program.

Venezian said serving in the Peace Corps broadened her outlook on life and gave her a wide appreciation of other cultures. Her daughter, Rachel, later served in the Peace Corps in West Africa.

"I think it kind of fuels your enthusiasm for life," she said.

When this story was posted in October 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

Kerry reaches out to Returned Volunteers Kerry reaches out to Returned Volunteers
The Kerry campaign wants the RPCV vote. Read our interview with Dave Magnani, Massachusetts State Senator and Founder of "RPCVs for Kerry," and his answers to our questions about Kerry's plan to triple the size of the Peace Corps, should the next PC Director be an RPCV, and Safety and Security issues. Then read the "RPCVs for Kerry" statement of support and statements by Dr. Robert Pastor, Ambassador Parker Borg, and Paul Oostburg Sanz made at the "RPCVs for Kerry" Press Conference.

RPCV Carl Pope says the key to winning this election is not swaying undecided voters, but persuading those already willing to vote for your candidate to actually go to the polls.

Take our poll and tell us what you are doing to support your candidate.

Finally read our wrap-up of the eight RPCVs in Senate and House races around the country and where the candidates are in their races.

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Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: Missourian

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