Jim Guittard’s Place

In economic downtown, more across Texas, U.S. choose to volunteer

Posted in Bulgaria, Life by guittard on April 24, 2009
06:54 AM CDT on Monday, April 20, 2009
By MARK NORRIS / The Dallas Morning News
norrism@dallasnews.com

Applications are up for the Peace Corps, Teach for America and AmeriCorps as Texans turn to service organizations in increasing numbers during the economic downturn.

The state numbers mirror national figures that show year-to-year increases beginning in 2007. Initial numbers of applicants this year are far outpacing those for any previous year.

Jim Guittard, who returned in late 2008 from a two-year mission for the Peace Corps, isn’t surprised.

“With the economy the way it is, people are looking for other things,” said Guittard, who lives in northeast Dallas. “They’re searching for a more satisfying or fulfilling life.”

Officials with the Peace Corps are still tallying the number of applications received in February, but according to the Dallas office’s Shannon Borders, it will probably be a record for one month.

AmeriCorps tripled the amount of applications it received in February this year compared with last.

Kerci Marcello Stroud, Teach for America’s regional communications director, said more people mentioned the economy during the just-completed application period than in years past. Some applicants told her the economic downturn made them re-evaluate what was important to them.

“There’s a growing interest among young people to engage in public service,” Stroud said.

The vast majority of applicants for AmeriCorps, the Peace Corps and Teach for America are recent college graduates.

Of the 35,000 applications Teach for America received this year, 25,000 were from graduating seniors. The remainder was split between graduate students and young professionals less than five years removed from graduation.

Sandy Nunez volunteered for Teach for America after graduating in spring 2007 from the University of Texas at Austin. She thought about joining the Peace Corps or other service organizations before deciding she could be most effective teaching children in underperforming schools.

“It seemed like a very appealing way to get involved,” said Nunez, who is about to complete her two-year commitment in the San Benito schools.

She recently decided to stay on for a third year, saying the state of the economy was a small part of her decision.

Borders said the Peace Corps targets recent college graduates. The median age of its volunteers in 25. There is no age limit, however, and 5 percent of the volunteer force is over 50. The oldest current volunteer is 84.

Guittard joined the Peace Corps 10 years after graduating from college. He had worked at an insurance company among other jobs and decided he wanted to take his life in a different direction.

“In college, I had considered the Peace Corps,” he said. “I didn’t want to have regrets in my life, so I decided to go apply.”

Guittard wound up teaching English to high-school-age students in Bulgaria for two years and taking away an appreciation of how tight-knit families were and how tough his students’ lives were.

He said people who apply need to have the maturity to handle being the situation they are entering.

That vetting is part of the application process, said Borders. She said the biggest surprise is people finding out it can take six to12 months to complete.

But it’s worth it, according to Guittard, who said, “I learned a lot and I’m more appreciative of what I have.”

jim-guittard-dmn-juan-garciaJUAN GARCIA/DMN
Jim Guittard taught English to high-school-age students in Bulgaria for two years.

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