November 23, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: Older Volunteers: Waco Tribune-Herald: Abby Sobel went overseas to Ukraine with the Peace Corps for the first time, more than 35 years older than most of her colleagues

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Ukraine: Peace Corps Ukraine : The Peace Corps in the Ukraine: November 23, 2005: Headlines: COS - Ukraine: Older Volunteers: Waco Tribune-Herald: Abby Sobel went overseas to Ukraine with the Peace Corps for the first time, more than 35 years older than most of her colleagues

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Abby Sobel went overseas to Ukraine with the Peace Corps for the first time, more than 35 years older than most of her colleagues

Abby Sobel went overseas to Ukraine with the Peace Corps for the first time, more than 35 years older than most of her colleagues

As a self-described “right-wing Republican,” she said she's out to prove one doesn't have to be a “bleeding-heart liberal” in order to volunteer and serve humanity.

Abby Sobel went overseas to Ukraine with the Peace Corps for the first time, more than 35 years older than most of her colleagues

Woman shatters stereotypes to help Peace Corps

By Terri Jo Ryan Tribune-Herald staff writer

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Abby Sobel enjoys flouting stereotypes. In the early 1990s, at age 58, she went overseas with the Peace Corps for the first time, more than 35 years older than most of her colleagues.

As a self-described “right-wing Republican,” she said she's out to prove one doesn't have to be a “bleeding-heart liberal” in order to volunteer and serve humanity.

Her mother set the example and the pace, Sobel said.

“Volunteer work is something I learned at a very young age,” she said. “My mother was a social worker, and a volunteer. I remember going with her at Christmas to deliver baskets to the elderly patients at nursing homes.”

Sobel is a native of New York City (her accent betrays that fact) but her family moved to Shreveport, La., when she was 6. In the mid-1950s she met her now late ex-husband, Jerry Sobel, and married him in 1957 after college. They lived in New York City long enough to have two kids before returning to Shreveport.

They moved to Waco in 1963 and operated a chain of pharmacies called the Script Shop until 1989, when the last of their five stores shuttered. Jerry Sobel died in 2002.

After their son, Bill Sobel, took over her old bookkeeping job with the pharmacies when he got out of college in the mid-1980s, Abby worked for Parrish, Moody & Fikes accounting firm in Marlin and Waco. She left that job to become controller of Dameron Oil Co., the job she held until she went into the Peace Corps for the first time.

The Peace Corps program, which is federally funded, sends people overseas to live and work for two to three years. Established in 1961 by President John Kennedy, it has about 6,600 volunteers in more than 87 countries.

The Tribune-Herald profiled Sobel in 1992, when she went to Ukraine, homeland of three of her four grandparents, on her altruistic mission. “The Peace Corps is the ultimate volunteer job,” Sobel said.

From November 1992 until February 1995, she served in Ukraine, helping to analyze independent Ukrainian businesses for investment by an American firm. She also took part in SABIT (Special American Business Internship Training), and taught accounting in an Ukrainian-American business college.

“Those were the best years of my life,” Sobel said of her first overseas mission for the nonprofit agency. She even said that when her obituary is written, she wants it to highlight that experience.

When she returned to Waco in 1995, she worked for the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District for eight years as the HIV/AIDS administrative coordinator.

On the side, she volunteered for McCARES (McLennan County HIV/AIDS Resources and Educations Services), Caritas of Waco, the Salvation Army clothing closet, the Council of Jewish Women, the Waco Historical Society and AARP.

For more than a decade, she's assisted the McLennan County Homeless Coalition in Stand Down, a project to bring goods and services to the chronic homeless of the area. The next Stand Down is set for Jan. 27.

She retired again in 2003 and decided to rejoin the Peace Corps “before I got too old.” From April through September 2004 she worked with a nongovernmental agency that did economic development work in Georgia, in a town called Lanchkhuti, about 20 miles from the Black Sea.

There, she met young students, including high-schooler Elene Mshvidobadze. The last name Mshvidobadze means “daughter of peace” in Georgian, Sobel said. She didn't know it then, but they would meet again in the United States.

When Sobel got back from her second stint with the Peace Corps, she said, she made up a list of local organizations she wanted to volunteer with. A newsletter from the Waco Community Development Corporation, soliciting office help, caught her eye.

“I believe in home ownership and economic development in the area, and I believe in beautifying Waco. That is what they do,” she said.

So, she volunteered there first, but they liked her work so much they put her on the payroll part-time, Sobel said.

“I'm out of retirement again,” she said.

She's also a “mom” again, with a teenager in the house.

Mshvidobadze is part of a program sponsored by the American Councils for International Education ( in which some 1,500 students from the former Soviet nations participate in a student year in America. Fifty of those youths come from Georgia. Its government conducts a competitive exam among 2,000 applicants for the honor.

Sobel said Mshvidobadze is the first child from her village to travel to the United States. The student journalist initially was supposed to go to another American host family, but Sobel was asked if she wanted to host Mshvidobadze when the original arrangements fell through. The teen arrived in Texas on July 23.

Mshvidobadze is a senior at Vanguard College Preparatory School, where she is learning Spanish, her fourth language. She finished high school in her own country before coming to this one. When she returns next June, she will start at the State University of Tiblisi and major in international affairs.

While she's here, like her hostess, she's volunteering: Mshvidobadze worked with Habitat for Humanity this summer on housing projects and with the Baptist Student Ministry at Baylor University, entertaining children in low-income neighborhoods.

She's getting a crash course on American teenagers, participating in concerts and dances, as well as enjoying movies and burgers. Mshvidobadze said she hopes to see all the local museums and take in classical music concerts. Two of her countrymen perform with the Waco Symphony, one of whom is a professor of violin at Baylor.

“Abby is the kind of woman that when she is with a child, she is a child. When she is with old people, she is old. I enjoy living with her and (gaining) experiences,” Mshvidobadze said. “She is very kind. I love her.”

Sobel has taken her to various area houses of worship: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church, the Baha'i Community, Highland Baptist Church, First United Methodist and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Waco, among others. On Thanksgiving, they are volunteering at the Meyer Center for Urban Ministries, feeding the homeless, Sobel said.

Sobel, who is 70 – “I prefer to say I'm 68 for the third time” – said, “I've always felt that you live your religion.” Public service is a natural part of her Judaism, she said. Sobel is a member of Temple Rodef Sholom.

The volunteering tradition continues with Sobel's daughter, Melanie Bauer of Waco, a longtime volunteer for such projects as the Boys and Girls Club, the Junior League Rainbow Room, Child Protective Services and Zoobilee.

Sobel is not done yet. She said her next goal is to do Habitat International projects in Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan.

“It's just what I expected of myself,” she said.


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

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Story Source: Waco Tribune-Herald

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


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