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FY-Eye: Golden Years With the Peace Corps

By Ed O'Keefe
Triumph and Hope
"Triumph and Hope: Golden Years With the Peace Corps in Honduras" by Barbara E. Joe (Courtesy of Barbara E. Joe)

Applications to the nation's various service corps have climbed in the last year, thanks in part to the economic downturn and an increased interest in public service after last year's historic presidential campaign.

College graduates have flooded the offices of Americorp, Teach for America and the Peace Corps with applications as they try to duck the tough job climate and spend a few years giving back. Others have been inspired by the "Obama effect," or what Alan Solomont, chairman of the Corporation for National and Community Service, last week called the positive response to a new, young president's calls for public service.

The average age of a Peace Corps volunteer is 27, and the nation's other service and volunteer organizations are packed with twenty- and thirty-somethings fresh out of college, eager to serve, or restarting, refocusing or reconsidering their careers before settling down once again.

But what about the nation's senior citizens still eager to serve?

Barbara E. Joe finally took the leap and applied to the Peace Corps in 2000 when she was 62-years old. She soon found herself serving in Honduras with dozens of twenty-somethings. Last year she published a book about her experiences, "Triumph and Hope: Golden Years With the Peace Corps in Honduras." She returns often to Honduras and maintains a blog about her return trips.

The book and blog are blunt assessments of the program, what the Peace Corps once described as “the toughest job you’ll ever love." Joe writes that she first felt the urge to serve when President Kennedy issued his clarion call to national service in the early 1960s:

But the time for dedicating myself fully to humanitarian service wasn't quite right. I was newly married, finishing up a master's degree at UC Berkeley and launching my own career while supporting my husband in his. Then came job changes, a cross-country move, the arrival of children. The Peace Corps seemed to have passed me by.

Probably sounds familiar to many people of all ages, who might have missed their own window of opportunity. But after a divorce, the unexpected death of her son and the death of a foster son, Joe finally decided in 2000 to apply, with the full support of her children and plenty of skepticism from friends and colleagues closer to her age.

Joe seemed to weather any potential discomfort about being an older volunteer rather well, laughing off the musical preferences of her younger colleagues (Limp Bizkit, Spinal Tap or Pearl Jam) when compared to her own (folk singers, classical composers and opera).

Joining the Peace Corps is an arduous process that can last several years. (Full disclosure: The Eye's sister is currently serving in Honduras and plenty of friends and classmates have also applied or served.) Joe notes that the Peace Corps has hired staff assigned to recruit Americans over the age of 50. Over-50 volunteers have grown from 1 percent in 1966 to 7 percent in recent years with the goal of eventually reaching 15 percent.

Barbara's book is a great read if you or someone you know wants to join the Peace Corps or another full-time volunteer/public service program. Buy and read this book... no matter your age.

Got any information on other books, academic or news articles and speeches about public service or the federal government? Leave information about them in the comments section below or e-mail the information to federaleye@washingtonpost.com.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 27, 2009; 12:45 PM ET
Categories:  FY-Eye, Public Service  
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