2004.10.18: October 18, 2004: Headlines: Older Volunteers: The Harrisburg Patriot : Many ages can dream of Peace Corps life

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Many ages can dream of Peace Corps life

 Many ages can dream of Peace Corps life

"My dad has always dreamed about joining the Peace Corps but he's worried that it might be too strenuous. He's been divorced for three years, is 60 and in very good health. Is it worth pursuing?"

Many ages can dream of Peace Corps life

Many ages can dream of Peace Corps life

Oct 18, 2004

The Harrisburg Patriot

by Linda Rhodes

Q: My dad has always dreamed about joining the Peace Corps but he's worried that it might be too strenuous. He's been divorced for three years, is 60 and in very good health. Is it worth pursuing?

A: One of the benefits of growing older is the renewed sense of freedom many people feel. There's no longer a boss to impress or a resume to build and the elder status in families gives them the right to say whatever they feel.

Many retirees also want to do something meaningful. They long to give back and feel that they've made a difference. The adventure of jumping into a new life -- though strenuous -- can make many retirees feel much younger than their age.

Let's take a closer look at what's involved in joining the Peace Corps.

There are more than 7,500 people serving the Peace Corps in 71 countries with the average age being 28. Before your dad thinks he's too old, the oldest volunteer is 81 and one in twelve is over 50. As more baby boomers approach retirement, you can expect this number to grow. Nine out of 10 are single and 40 percent are male.

In the 1960s when the Peace Corps began, your dad was in his teens, and probably envisions working alongside small farmers when agricultural development was a core service of the Peace Corps. But today, the Peace Corps focuses on five areas. Here is how the national Peace Corps Office describes what they do:

* Education, youth outreach and community development volunteers teach, encourage critical thinking in the classroom, and integrate issues like health education and environmental awareness into English, math, science and other subjects.

* Business development volunteers work in education, private businesses, public organizations, government offices, cooperatives, women's and youth groups and more.

* Environment volunteers work on a variety of activities, from teaching environmental awareness to planting trees within a community.

* Agriculture volunteers work with small farmers to increase food production while promoting environmental conservation practices.

* Health volunteers educate and promote awareness of HIV/AIDS, as well as other issues, such as malnutrition and safe drinking water.

* Information technology volunteers help communities to capitalize on technology by teaching computer skills, developing regional databases and implementing networks for businesses and government offices.

If your dad has any talent and skills in any of these areas or is willing to train in them, then he might have a place in the Peace Corps. You don't have to know another language to join, although that is helpful.

What is it like being an older Peace Corps volunteer? A friend and colleague of mine, Glen Dunbar of Harrisburg, former guru on aging policy for the state Department of Aging, is finding out. He joined the Peace Corps 10 months ago at age 57 and has been e- mailing progress reports from Nicaragua to many of his friends. Let me share, in his words, what this experience is like for him:

"Surprisingly, I have not found the physical part of the Peace Corps experience to be especially taxing -- my health post is about three miles from where I live in Boaco, and I walk to and from there several days a week," he said.

"The Peace Corps experience is life-changing," he added. "I will never again be able to look at mounds of presents wrapped under a Christmas tree and not think that the money could have been better spent on food and medicine for beautiful, smiling children living in shacks with dirt floors and drinking water from the river.

"I both hate, and love, being in situations where I am forced outside my comfort zone. I will be eternally grateful to the Peace Corps for giving me, and my bright young colleagues, the opportunity to more fully understand America's place in the world and to be personally challenged to the maximum extent of our capacity."

According to Glen, who has taken the name Lorenzo, it took seven months from the time of application to receive an assignment (all assignments are 24 months). He did need to learn Spanish and received tutoring to do so, but finds it frustrating not to be fluent. While he was waiting to be assigned, he also took a health education course at Harrisburg Area Community College to better prepare himself to work in a clinic.

Your dad will need to make an application, receive an interview from a recruiter, gain medical and legal clearance and be nominated for an assignment that matches his skills to a country's needs. So, if your dad is still interested after reading this column, he should submit an application by calling (800) 424-8580 or visiting www.peacecorps.gov. LINDA RHODES is a former state secretary of aging. E-mail her at www.lindarhodes.com.

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

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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.

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Read the stories and leave your comments.

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Story Source: The Harrisburg Patriot

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