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Peace Corps luring more volunteers from Georgia

POSTED: August 29, 2008 5:01 a.m.

The Peace Corps is enrolling more volunteers nationwide, and Georgia applications are up 49 percent from 2007, said David Leavitt, a Peace Corps public affairs specialist.

The Peace Corps, which sends eligible people to volunteer in one of 74 countries for two years, has seen an increased interest in people from the Southeast, especially from the various colleges and universities in the region.

Sherri Hill, who graduated from Johnson High School and earned her degree at Berry College, has been teaching English with the Peace Corps in Thailand since January.

Hill’s mother, Judy Bagley, said her daughter always was involved in community service, and she was not surprised when Hill wanted to join the Peace Corps.

"It made sense knowing my daughter," Bagley said. "She just wanted the experience, and it’s really neat what she’s doing."

Leavitt said the higher number of applicants could be because of a renewed interested in helping others, along with the idea of service learning promoted by schools.

Brenau University spokesman David Morrison said the school recently has put an emphasis on global relations, and he could see Brenau students having an interest in joining the Peace Corps.

"We’ve just rolled out what we call our four portals of learning liberal arts curriculum. One of the four portals is to increase global awareness and your role as a citizen of the world. We’re placing more emphasis on communication and languages as a result of that part of the curriculum," Morrison said.

Morrison said there are many international students at the university, including three students from Afghanistan. There are six current and former volunteers from Brenau University and two from Gainesville State College, who volunteered in Niger, Guyana, Mali, Thailand, Mongolia and Bulgaria.

The Peace Corps used to focus outreach on larger universities, but Leavitt said the Peace Corps has been successful attracting people from smaller schools that may not have been targeted in the past.

"We’ve really increased the use of Web-based advertising, like Facebook advertising with our various colleges, and we’ve really increased our overall reach across the Southeast," Leavitt said.

Though most Peace Corps volunteers are in their 20s, Leavitt said a new crop of older Americans have shown interest in volunteering abroad.

"We’ve also seen a real increase among older Americans, those who have retired not wanting to just go to the golf course and still wanting to volunteer. They maybe heard about Peace Corps when they were young and end up thinking about it for all these years ... And now they join Peace Corps and a lot of our countries really embrace having people with all that experience," Leavitt said. "There’s been a huge interest from older folks."

Currently, about 5 percent of the 8,079 Peace Corps volunteers and trainees are older than 50, and the oldest is 80, according to Peace Corps statistics.

Leavitt said he also thought the current political atmosphere and job market may also have influenced the higher number of applicants.

"I think nationally, President Bush has talked about this call to service, and Obama and McCain, everybody’s talking about the call to service. Young people are getting more politically involved and politically engaged," Leavitt said.

"We’re one of those agencies that a lot of people are embracing at this time in American history."



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