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Yikes! I'm In The Peace Corps

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Peace Corps
It all began with President Kennedy's now famous inaugural address. He sought to inspire a generation of idealistic, young Americans to give of themselves. It wasn't long before the Peace Corps was born.

"This corps will be a pool of trained men and women sent overseas to help foreign countries meet their urgent needs for skilled manpower," said President Kennedy.

In the 40 years since the Peace Corps was established, thousands have answered Mr. Kennedy's call to serve. Most have been young college graduates looking to aid the less fortunate, while at the same time gaining exposure to the world outside their own.

Let's just say, the demographics have changed.

Today's Peace Corps is far more representative of the diversity that is America. Ten percent of today's volunteers are over age 50. They range from bored corporate executives to retirees looking to give back. Sometimes they're people like Sheryal Valencic who wanted to volunteer when President Kennedy first proposed the idea, but obligations kept her from doing so.

"I also wanted to have children. So I decided I'd have my kids first and then I'd do the Peace Corps when my last child was 18 years old and that's what I did.

Valencic served as a health volunteer in Turkemenistan, 100 miles from the Afghani border. During her 27-month tour overseas, she was paired with a local midwife. Being an older volunteer did have its difficulties, though.

"I was intimidated more by being accepted by the younger volunteers than I was being in the Peace Corps or by locals, because in America there's a large gap between people who are 20 and people who are 50-- and very seldom do they meet (except for maybe a few brief moments at the dinner table.)" said Valencic.

Adding the experience was harder than she thought it would be.

"The living conditions were very, very difficult. The sanitary conditions were horrible. I squatted over a hole for 2 years. I got used to it, but when I first arrived the filth was disgusting. They're living about 50 years behind where we're living," she noted.

Despite the challenges, applications for older volunteers are up. Regional recruiters like Jason Rothbard believe that older recruits add a valuable dimension to the Peace Corps' mission.

"Younger volunteers often think about how Peace Corps is going to look on their resume. They're looking at how many doors Peace Corps's going to open for them when they get back to the US. But the older volunteers aren't as concerned about that. They're really in it for what it's going to do for them--what it's going to do for their own sense of accomplishment, of self-worth, of what they can give back to the world that they've lived in for 50-plus years," said Rothbard.

Paul and Judy Sochat were searching for the right way to repay their good fortune in life. They first considered the Peace Corps 12 years after he retired from his dental practice but were turned down. Undeterred, they reapplied at age 72.

"We've always been active, and this is a chance to fire up the engines again, if you will, and it's something exciting and new, and we think we hopefully have some skills and experience that we can share," said Judy Sochat.
About the adventure, their friends said, "The usual thing what a wonderful thing to do, but I couldn't do it," noted Paul Sochat.

Not only are they doing it, though, they're doing it in a hurry. They just learned that they leave in June for 2 years in Moldova. A long time to be away from family and friends.

"It is frightening. It's exciting, and it's scary and I go up and down everyday. We walked the other morning and I said...'I think I'm hysterical'," said Judy Sochat laughing.

It's that giddy enthusiasm that President Kennedy first thought to channel in 1961. And while Camelot has long since past, Kennedy's vision for a Peace Corps continues to evolve and inspire.

Interested in joining The Peace Corps? Check out their Web site at
peacecorps.gov.