The Peace Corps, an international aid program celebrating its 50th anniversary, is actively recruiting older volunteers valued for their lifetime of experience, but some of the over-50 crowd find it hard to pack up and go.
BabyBoomers, the first generation to staff the Peace Corps, are being targeted once again for overseas duty. This time around, the group faces a series of financial concerns unlikely to occur to a recent college grad. Few newly minted adults worry about capital gains taxes when they think about signing up for the Peace Corps, but the middle-aged want to know if they’ll be exempt from taxes if they sell their house in order to volunteer.
Others wonder about the best way to manage their home and financial affairs while serving overseas. The Peace Corps offers a variety of suggestions: Give a trusted person power of attorney for financial and legal matters; hire a property manager to handle the rental of your home; pay an accountant to prepare your taxes. Though there’s a solution for clearing logistical hurdle, the number of solution offered speaks to the increased challenges facing a 50-year-old considering a long-term, full-time volunteer commitment.
Volunteers often ask what it’s like to serve with others half their age. Host communities generally accord respect to older volunteers for their age and wisdom, said the corps, adding, “Because there are fewer older volunteers, however, loneliness can be a problem for those who feel the need for a nearby and supportive peer group.”
Married coupels are allowed to serve together, but each member must apply and qualify separately. Couples face more limited opportunities due to a small number of overseas placements for two people.
Older volunteers tend to worry about voting, staying in touch with family and friends and coping with a family emergency, though the Peace Corps gives leave and pays travel expenses for volunteers coping with emergencies involving immediate family members.
The challenges of volunteering later in life can seem daunting, but people 50 years and older comprise 7 percent of today’s 8,600-member corps.
The 2011 winner of the group’s Lillian Carter Award went to 74-year-old Diane Gallagher, a Massachusetts resident who served in Cape Verde from 1990 to 1992 when she was in her early 50s. Upon her return to the Boston area, she worked as a Peace Corps recruiter until 1998.
“Miss Lillian was my inspiration to join the Peace Corps and I thought if she can go in at age 68, then I can certainly go in at age 53,” said Gallagher. “As a returned Peace Corps volunteer, I share stories and my love for my country and service with other Americans to bring my rich experience overseas home to the United States and recruit the next generation of volunteers.”