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Left Justified: The Peace Corps in Rockford

April 6, 2011

By Stanley Campbell

About 50 Peace Corps returned volunteers live in the Rockford area. Most are involved in teaching and the helping services. All bring their experiences and enrich the community.

Thursday, March 24, Rockford Urban Ministries (for which I work) hosted a dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps.

Among the 60 attendees were 25 returned volunteers, three parents of volunteers and one volunteer preparing to begin service in April (a lovely 60-year-old woman leaving for the Republic of Georgia). The returned volunteers served in 15 countries of Asia, Africa, Europe, Central and South America, and the Caribbean.

Attendees came to the dinner from Rockford, Rockton, Pecatonica, Freeport, Lena, Shannon, DeKalb and Williams Bay, Wis., and they served their individual two- to three-year terms anytime between 1963 and 2007.

Christ United Methodist Church was a wonderful host! A delicious vegetarian dinner was prepared and served by Becky Keith and helpers, complete with dessert of tres leches cake. The Rev. David Poust, associate pastor at Christ UMC, blessed the meal. Two anonymous donors helped cover the cost.

Sue Mroz, representing the Winnebago County Board chairman’s office, greeted the group and expressed thanks for their work. Loren Floto (who himself serviced in the Dominican Republic) presided over the volunteer introductions. PowerPoint presentations were given by Sue and Duane Wilke, volunteers in South Korea, and Rich Muniz, whose daughter currently serves in Rwanda.

I asked Connie Wenger why, at age 60, she was willing to enlist in the Peace Corps and go off to the Republic of Georgia. Here’s her response: “The Peace Corps was one of those things that I would have loved to do, but didn’t have the nerve as a young woman. Then, life happens, you get married, have a child, work at a career, retire—suddenly (or so it seems) you’re 60! Where did the time go? I don’t regret any of the foolish things I did in my life (and there were many)—they’re done and cannot be taken back, but I don’t want to regret those things I didn’t do.

“So, after much discussion with my family, I made application to the Peace Corps in June 2009. Lots of paperwork, lots of patience, lots of questions, more paperwork. I went to the PC offices in Chicago for my initial interview in July 2009; then waited. And waited, and waited. In February 2010, I received a nomination for service in Eastern Europe, leaving in March 2011. This means that they have matched my skill set (business) with an upcoming program. But it is NOT an invitation, nor does it guarantee placement in Eastern Europe or in the program. Now, the intensive paperwork begins…medical, dental, more medical (I’m not 25!). But I was finally cleared for service in October 2010. Then, you wait for PC Placement to contact you for an interview (which happened in January 2011). On Feb. 4, 2011, I received an e-mail invitation to serve! But where? They will not tell you over the phone or in an e-mail—you have to wait for your package to arrive so as not to form opinions prior to having all the information. Then, you have seven days to accept or reject the invitation.

“My invitation package arrived on Feb. 9, 2011: GEORGIA! I sat down and read all the material, looked online for any information, read and read as much as I could…and accepted the invitation to serve on Feb. 11, 2011. And so now the adventure begins: learning a new language and a new alphabet, preparing, packing, saying goodbye…

“The Georgia 2011 group meets April 25 for staging in Philadelphia, then on April 26 we board a bus to JFK and make our way to the Republic of Georgia. Sometimes you just need to step off the cliff…”

We wish Connie well!

Returned volunteers of the stateline will meet again for a potluck supper Thursday, May 5, at JustGoods Listening Room, 201 Seventh St., Rockford, from 5 to 7 p.m. Any questions, contact Loren Floto at (815) 624-7622 or myself at (815) 964-7111.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the April 6-12, 2011 issue

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