January 10, 2005: Headlines: COS - St. Lucia: Older Volunteers: WVEC: Katie Zawacki and her husband John, 69, started their journey to St. Lucia to begin a tour with the Peace Corps that will last two years and three months

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Saint Lucia: Peace Corps Saint Lucia : The Peace Corps in Saint Lucia: January 10, 2005: Headlines: COS - St. Lucia: Older Volunteers: WVEC: Katie Zawacki and her husband John, 69, started their journey to St. Lucia to begin a tour with the Peace Corps that will last two years and three months

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Katie Zawacki and her husband John, 69, started their journey to St. Lucia to begin a tour with the Peace Corps that will last two years and three months

Katie Zawacki and her husband John, 69, started their journey to St. Lucia to begin a tour with the Peace Corps that will last two years and three months

Katie Zawacki and her husband John, 69, started their journey to St. Lucia to begin a tour with the Peace Corps that will last two years and three months

Retired Roanoke County couple joins Peace Corps

01/10/2005

By SUZANNE WARDLE / Associated Press

ROANOKE, Va. Papers, boxes and knickknacks cluttered the Zawackis' temporary living quarters at Sunscape Apartments in Roanoke County. A folding table stood behind the futon and a wooden stool looked out of place beside three green plastic chairs.

"My daughter said to her husband, 'My parents are living like college students,' " said 59-year-old Katie Zawacki.

That changed in early January, when Zawacki and her husband John, 69, started their journey to St. Lucia to begin a tour with the Peace Corps that will last two years and three months.

"We're going for an adventure, to live in another country again," Katie Zawacki said. "We were looking for something to do. John had just retired and we didn't want to stay here forever."

Although they have lived in the Roanoke Valley for 32 years, the Zawackis are no strangers to the rest of the world. They lived in South Africa during apartheid, had a son in Holland, spent about a year living in a Spanish villa and have fond memories of their time in the south of France. Two years ago, they volunteered for the Peace Corps and prepared to travel again.

"We both have years of experience and skill," John Zawacki said. "Our wisdom, patience and tolerance are assets to the Peace Corps."

The Zawackis bring other assets too: skills they learned at their jobs. Katie worked more than 14 years at Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare as a prevention specialist and John was an electrical engineer at General Electric for 34 years. Katie said she would like to work with young children again while John said he hoped he could help people in the eastern Caribbean with the more technical aspects of life.

Although they are going to the eastern Caribbean, the Zawackis do not yet know their exact destination. According to Peace Corps spokeswoman Sara Johnston, finding a country in need of such different skills can be hard.

"We need to find meaningful work for both," Johnston said, adding the organization usually sends couples to urban areas. She said the organization does not separate married couples because they can support each other.

Although only 6 percent of the 7,733 Peace Corps volunteers are older than 50, Johnston said the organization encourages older people to volunteer.

"Cultures respect older people," she said. "Gray hair is a good thing."

Friends of the Zawackis were not surprised by the couple's decision to volunteer.

"Their age in no way indicates how they're young at heart and how compassionate their hearts are," said Debbie Kaplan, a pastoral counselor who met and befriended Katie Zawacki when the two worked at a Roanoke County elementary school. "These are people you just want your children exposed to."

Virginia Hardin, the prevention director for Blue Ridge Behavioral Healthcare and Katie's former boss, said she thought it was the "perfect next step" for the couple.

But according to the Zawackis, not everyone they knew understood why they wanted to leave the comfort of the United States. John Zawacki said people pointed out that he and his wife would not be able to drive a car or go to concerts.

"They expressed everything from admiration to, 'Why are you doing this? You won't be able to drink any good beer,' " John said.

While the two realize they will lack certain amenities, there are certain aspects of the United States they will not miss.

"One thing I won't miss is the consumerism of this country," Katie said. "Christmas just about does me in with this buy, buy, buy."

This may be one reason the Zawackis did not decide to sell, sell, sell. Furniture their five children did not take is being donated to Refugee and Immigration Services and the Zawackis rented a storage unit for the 51 boxes of items they are not taking with them. They are allowed to take 80 pounds of luggage with them for two years and have packed clothing, sleeping bags and a coffee press as well as smaller items the Peace Corps said are necessary, such as Ziploc bags and a Swiss Army knife.

The couple said they hope their children will visit them in the eastern Caribbean. Although they receive 24 days' leave per year, John said they will not vacation in the United States. Katie said she is looking forward to spending her leave exploring that area of the world.

Although the couple said they will miss Roanoke and the mountains, they are not sure if they will return to Roanoke after their time abroad. Katie said they might move to Hawaii, citing warmer climes.

"Travel has been my very favorite thing to do," Katie said. "When I was 10 years old, I had money for my birthday and went to the five-and-dime and bought a suitcase. It's like I was destined to travel."

___

Information from: The Roanoke Times





When this story was posted in January 2005, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: WVEC

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - St. Lucia; Older Volunteers

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