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Next year, 2011, is officially the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps, but most people who have served in the Peace Corps recognize this year as the golden anniversary. It was 1960 when Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country by way of serving others. KSMU’s Ryan Welch spoke with a Springfield resident who spent time in the ‘90s as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Ellen Gardiner was 50 years old when she joined the Peace Corps in 1994, and she says that because there is no upper age limit, she always knew she would be able to join.
“As life passed on, my life kind of took different turns. And I wasn’t really ready or able to go until later in life. But I always kept it on my back burner of one of my life dreams: to go abroad to help other people,” said Gardiner.
Volunteers commit two years of their lives to living and working in developing countries. Gardiner spent her two years of volunteering in a small farming community in Poland, teaching English to high school students. She says her experiences during that time made a lasting bond between her and Poland.
“I don’t think you could live in a country in such intimate connection with the people and not have that be a continuing part of who you are and how you see yourself for the rest of one’s life,” said Gardiner.
Gardiner said that while she was away from home, she had some friends in the U.S. who really helped her out. Some took care of her car, others her furniture, still others helped her find a new home for her two cats.
“I mean, I even had someone taking care of my plants. It was just an outpouring of love, and care, and concern. I had care packages while I was there…a friend who used to live here who has since moved back to New York state actually mailed me the New York Times, and postage cost $50, that’s 5-0,” said Gardiner.
Over 200,000 Americans have served in 139 countries since the Peace Corps’ inception March 1, 1961.
“I had some challenging times there, but I have never regretted my having this experience, my joining the Peace Corps, and by living my dream,” said Gardiner.
Peace Corps volunteers range in age from 18-86 and represent all 50 states. Seven percent of volunteers are over the age of 50; the average age is 28. The volunteers work in education, health, business, the environment, agriculture, and community development.For more information on the Peace Corps, you can visit our website, ksmu.org.
For KSMU News, I’m Ryan Welch.