Monday, February 16, 2015

I’m joining the Peace Corps!

Some of you will think I’m crazy, but I am going to try to explain a major life decision I have made. As of the end of May 2015, I will be eligible to retire from my career as a federal bureaucrat. My plan is to take retirement after 30 years at the end of May and then depart in June 2015 as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I don’t know exactly where I will be placed yet, but it will be on one of the islands in the eastern Caribbean, and I have been assigned to a school to help with "reading literacy."

There are lots of reasons why the Peace Corps has always been appealing to me. My secret plan if I had dropped out of law school was to join the Peace Corps. Fortunately, I made it through law school, but I always appreciated that the Peace Corps “had my back” as an escape route if I had needed it. Now that I am retiring, I can finally “pay them back.”

I guess I’ve known about the Peace Corps for most of my life. I can remember the inspiring “toughest job you’ll ever love” Peace Corps commercials that appeared on TV long ago. I can remember in my youth when a woman from my church became a Peace Corps volunteer. To my young mind, it seemed like she was a missionary for America—I thought that was a noble mission, indeed. I’ve always had a strong sense of patriotism and public service. I love my country, and I realize how lucky I was to have been born here! I made sure my American Government students at WVU-Parkersburg understood how lucky they were to be born here, because I always gave them a practice test their first night based on real questions from the U.S. Citizenship Tests.

For various reasons, I didn’t serve in the military (I was young enough to miss the Vietnam War), but I’m not too old now to serve in the Peace Corps. I’m willing to sacrifice for a couple of years in order to help my country help others. It isn’t the same as the sacrifices made by friends and family members who served in the military (and who had to worry about getting killed), but I will still be serving my country.

The Peace Corps was started by President John Kennedy. Although I was a child when he was president, I don’t really remember his presidency (it was before I was old enough to go to school). I do remember that November afternoon when our normal television programming was interrupted for the terrible news out of Dallas about his shooting. I didn’t fully understand everything that was happening, but knew it wasn’t good.

However, by Saturday morning I was irate that the cartoons I loved were pre-empted as all three channels continued their news coverage of the assassination. In an early example of my civic engagement, I felt that there should be a law that one of the networks (we only had three channels back then) should provide the normal Saturday morning cartoons in such situations to placate the children.

Once I grew up and understood better, I’ve always felt bad that most of my memories of JFK center around my own selfish desire for cartoons. I hope that my willingness to serve in “his” Peace Corps helps to assuage that guilt.

My "significant other" Anna has known about my Peace Corps plan for a long time. When she still lived in the Parkersburg area, Anna and I had driven over to Athens, Ohio, to attend an international fair at Ohio University. The Peace Corps had an information table there, and the folks there rekindled my desire to serve. That discussion about a dozen years ago made me realize that volunteers didn’t need to be recent college graduates; in fact, older volunteers are a growing segment of the Peace Corps.

I’ve harbored this desire for many years, and realized it was a great way to kickoff my retirement (allowing my first two years of retirement earnings to accumulate into a nice nest egg for when I return). By leaving this year, I’ll be able to complete my term as a Peace Corps Volunteer before I turn 60.

I’ve talked about this idea over the years with several people. During a 2011 trip Anna and I made to Washington, DC, the Peace Corps happened to be celebrating its 50th anniversary, and had a major display set up on the mall. During one of our Caribbean cruises, we arranged to meet with a Peace Corps couple serving in the Dominican Republic. We brought them a “care package” ( and later sent a follow-up package to them.

My intent to join the Peace Corps upon retirement has long been contemplated, but always seemed distant. However, this past summer—one year before I would eligible to retire—the plan started taking shape. I began researching on the Internet, reading blogs written by volunteers, attending several Peace Corps information sessions, and began the application process. I had my official interview in early December, and have now been notified that I was selected for the Eastern Caribbean group departing on June 11.

I will initially be flown to the island of St. Lucia for pre-service training. Then I will be assigned to one of the four island countries that the Peace Corps currently serves: Grenada, Dominica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, or St. Lucia. Anna and I have visited Grenada (twice), Dominica, and St. Lucia during our cruises. All of them are beautiful islands, but they’ve requested American assistance with improving their education system. The Peace Corps mission is to promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:

• To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women;

• To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and

• To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

I will need to sell my house, divest myself of most of my belongings, and prepare for 27 months in a foreign country. It will be the start of a whole new life experience. I’ve known several former Peace Corps volunteers, and all of them have been outstanding individuals, who treasure their experience overseas. I trust I will treasure my experience as well. I began my federal career in a special two-year program known as the Presidential Management Fellows Program, so I think it is altogether fitting to close my federal career with a similar two-year commitment to the Peace Corps.

This is a calling for me, and I’m going to heed the call. It won’t be easy for me or for those who are close to me, but it is something I need to do. Thank you in advance for your support and understanding of this major life decision!

P.S. Anybody looking for a nice house in Parkersburg, WV?

I picked up this poster when we attended the
Peace Corps 50th Anniversary Celebration
on the mall in Washington, DC in 2011.

1 comment:

  1. Dave - you will treasure every minute of this experience. I was a volunteer in a vaccination program for 2 summers in Latin America before college, and still fondly recall every detail.