2006.09.20: September 20, 2006: Headlines: Older Volunteers: Hartford Courant: Peace Corps Welcomes Elderly

Peace Corps Online: Peace Corps News: Library: Peace Corps: Older Volunteers : The Peace Corps and Older Volunteers: 2006.09.20: September 20, 2006: Headlines: Older Volunteers: Hartford Courant: Peace Corps Welcomes Elderly

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Peace Corps Welcomes Elderly

Peace Corps Welcomes Elderly

"That image of the `typical' young, just-out-of-college Peace Corps volunteer has changed," says Gretchen Learman, spokeswoman for the Peace Corps. "Age is no barrier to joining the Peace Corps. In many cases, it's an asset, since senior volunteers bring so much expertise and so much knowledge to their work."

Peace Corps Welcomes Elderly

Peace Corps Welcomes Elderly
September 20, 2006

Forty years ago, when Lillian Carter applied to the Peace Corps, the idea of a 67-year-old woman's volunteering to serve as a public health worker in India was so unusual, the sexagenarian had to have her head examined before being accepted.

The Corps requested she undergo a psychiatric evaluation. The mother of President Carter passed the assessment and went on to become one of the Peace Corps' most famous senior volunteers. After her death in 1983, the organization established an award in her name to recognize volunteers 50 and over for outstanding service.

The current pool of possible recipients for that honor might surprise even Miss Lillian, as she was known. These days, hundreds of volunteers in their 50s, 60s, 70s and even 80s serve as Peace Corps volunteers in 75 countries.

"That image of the `typical' young, just-out-of-college Peace Corps volunteer has changed," says Gretchen Learman, spokeswoman for the Peace Corps. "Age is no barrier to joining the Peace Corps. In many cases, it's an asset, since senior volunteers bring so much expertise and so much knowledge to their work."

When the organization began in 1961, fewer than 1 percent of volunteers were over age 50. Today, that figure has increased to 6 percent - and the Peace Corps hopes even greater numbers of older Americans will consider making the 27-month commitment to serve.

To accomplish that goal, the Corps has developed special marketing materials geared toward the 50-plus audience. Brochures include the faces of mature volunteers. Staffers in a number of recruiting offices are themselves former older volunteers. In its Los Angeles office, the Peace Corps has a recruiter who works primarily with military retirees and other seniors. The Corps sends representatives to AARP conventions and does outreach to the Retired Teachers Association.

Learman says the Peace Corps does its best to address medical and financial concerns older volunteers might have.

"We recognize that older volunteers might have special needs and try to accommodate them when we can," says Learman. "For example, we might post a senior volunteer to an area with medical facilities nearby."

While serving, all volunteers receive medical and dental coverage, vacation time and transportation to and from their host country. If a volunteer becomes seriously ill, the Corps provides transportation to the closest American-standard medical facility in the region or to the U.S. In most cases, Peace Corps service won't affect a retiree's Social Security benefits, civil service or military service pension. (Volunteers receive small living and readjustment allowances.)

Older volunteers include married couples such as Tom and Judith Hogan. In 2003, the sixtysomething couple from Litchfield put their careers on hold to spend two years in the Ukraine teaching English to high school and college students.

"We kept talking about it and investigating the next step and finally made the decision to go for it," says Judith Hogan. "I'm sure a lot of our friends thought we'd lost our minds. It wasn't easy and it isn't the right choice for everyone, but we found it to be an incredibly rewarding experience. It gave us a whole new perspective of the world."

The Peace Corps is not the only group hoping to attract older volunteers. In January, the Corporation for National and Community Service unveiled a public service ad campaign encouraging the country's 77 million baby boomers to get involved in their communities - and statistics indicate that the Forever Young generation is likely to be a receptive audience.

Information on volunteering opportunities is available at www.peacecorps.gov; www.getinvolved.gov and www.nationalservice.gov.

E-mail Korky Vann at vann@courant.com

When this story was posted in September 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Hartford Courant

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