Tag Archives: Durham

Africa in the Attic

One of the world’s great private collections of West African art was hidden until recently in the Durham attic of two returned Peace Corps Volunteers, Reggie and Celeste Hodges. Now they’re donating to North Carolina museums many of their hundreds of masks, statues and other precious objects. It’s a remarkable story, which I tell in this article just published by WorldView, the magazine of the National Peace Corps Association.

Click to open a PDF copy of the article.

Learn more at Reggie and Celeste’s website.

 

Put Us to Work

When Champa and I returned to Durham after serving abroad for two years in the Peace Corps, I didn’t expect it to be so difficult to continue volunteering in my own community.

I assumed there were local nonprofit groups that could use my professional skills, especially for free. When I called around and searched online, though, I couldn’t find a good match. IMG_0539Eventually, I created an informal volunteer role for myself with the North Carolina partnership program that assists Moldova, where we served as Peace Corps volunteers, and I resumed volunteering at Urban Ministries, but who knows what I missed?

I am not alone. Across the Triangle and more widely, many older Americans now view retirement as much more than leisure. They consider it a second act, a new life stage of personal growth and service that may last for decades. These retirees are still sharp, still active, and a tremendous potential resource for nonprofit organizations that could tap their expertise in various fields.

Too often, however, communities regard their older residents in an outdated way — as a group requiring assistance rather than as an asset to recruit and empower. 

I became curious about what I encountered and began talking with people in our area who are involved in one way or another with older adults or volunteering. IMG_2256Over the past few months, I’ve met with our local volunteer center, Activate Good,  the United Way, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Duke, Duke’s Office of Durham and Regional Affairs, local senior centers, the governor’s office, county officials, a retirement community and many others. (Here’s a list.) I’ve also talked with Encore.org and people around the country.

These are wonderful and impressive people — caring, thoughtful and professional. They are working hard on missions such as helping retirees obtain medical care or promoting volunteerism broadly.

Generally, though, older volunteers are only a small part of their missions, which were established before the big shift began in how Americans think about retirement.

For instance, our local volunteer center does great work but is also busy with high school students and many others. Websites such as VolunteerMatch and organizations ranging from AARP to RSVP serve important roles, too. Yet many older residents still fail to connect with worthy organizations that could benefit from their experience in writing grants, preparing budgets, building websites or managing staffs. 

IMG_2248To be sure, many retired citizens do serve as volunteers — teaching literacy classes, building homes with Habitat for Humanity and much more. Some volunteer through  their religious organization or a former employer. Many retirement communities and senior centers have their own volunteer programs, often with a focus on serving the needs of other retired people.

We need to be more strategic about this, as some communities around the country have demonstrated. A leader of the Encore Boston Network told me about their system to train older volunteers, match them with organizations and provide ongoing support. He described similar efforts in Phoenix, Denver and elsewhere. Many of the volunteers take on assignments that draw on their special expertise. Springfield, Missouri has an impressive Give 5 program that brings groups of retired people on a bus to local nonprofits, helping them find one to match their interests.

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I don’t mean in any way to downplay the many people, of all ages, who are generously rolling up their sleeves across our region to deliver meals, comfort the sick and more, or the excellent organizations that work with them. But as more and more older Americans look for new meaning in their lives, communities like Durham that attract them should recognize their good fortune and act deliberately to match them in meaningful volunteer roles, which would also help retirees avoid social isolation.

The opportunity is compelling and I am optimistic we can take advantage of it. As I’ve discussed it with local leaders and stakeholders, they’ve generally been responsive and enthusiastic. They see the possibilities. Several key players are interested in trying to make Durham a leader in this arena. Everything I’ve encountered so far reminds me why Champa and I are lucky to live in such a progressive and caring community.

If some older folks prefer to just play golf or tend their gardens, they’ve earned that choice. The two of us enjoy traveling and spending time with our grandchildren, too. But we also want to continue the spirit of volunteerism we found so fulfilling in the Peace Corps.

We’re not the only ones. Put us to work.

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Mulling What’s Next

If you’re an older American looking to continue pursuing a life of service and adventure after spending two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, you can find lots of helpful resources online.

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I know because I’ve been searching through them myself as Champa and I enter the final lap of our time in Moldova. Just like our younger colleagues, we’re thinking about what we’ll do after ringing the traditional farewell bell here this summer. While many of them have been checking out graduate schools or possible jobs, though, we’ve been looking for ideas that better fit our stage of life.

Let me share some of what I’ve found:Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.31.05 PM

Senior Nomads, a blog by retired Seattle couple Debbie and Michael Campbell, chronicles their full-time travels since 2013, staying in Airbnbs while visiting more than 68 countries. As Debbie noted in a recent post, they now spend money on airfares, Airbnbs and travel insurance instead of a home. They’ve been able to spend lots of time every year with their children and grandchildren and to keep in touch with friends while pursuing a life that, at least to me, feels a lot more interesting than playing golf every day.Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.31.28 PM

Lynne Martin has been pursuing similar adventures with her husband Tim, which she describes  on her website, Home Free Adventures. Lynne’s book, Home Sweet Anywhere: How We Sold Our House, Created a New Life, and Saw the World, inspired us several years ago when we were contemplating leaving the conventional workplace to become “not exactly retired” ourselves

There are numerous websites devoted to “senior travel,” each with its own niche. TripAdvisor compiled some of the best in its article 20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millenials. (Their title, not mine.) If you’re looking for practical tips, also check out Rick Steves’ article about Savvy Senior Travelers. If you’re dreaming of becoming a travel writer yourself, you’ll find lots of advice online.

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Other sites offers leads about short- or longer-term employment overseas. Transitions Abroad is a good one for English teachers. Modern-Day Nomads highlights “top travel jobs & inspiration for globetrekking, creative professionals.” (It hasn’t been updated recently but its listings for November included one for a seasonal sous chef at Denali National Park.)

Champa and I want to continue providing service after Peace Corps. I’ve been finding new inspiration for this at Encore.org, which promotes “second acts for the greater good.” I’m thinking now about how I can best apply my own skills to make a similar impact, whether back home in Durham or more broadly. Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.33.37 PMMy niece, Juliana, will be enrolling this fall at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, with a special interest in social entrepreneurship; I may need to borrow some of her course materials.

Good online resources exist to help older Americans find volunteer opportunities. HandsOn Triangle serves our North Carolina community. Similar sites exist elsewhere. AARP’s Create the Good serves older volunteers nationwide. Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.34.56 PMThere are also excellent organizations and websites aimed at older volunteers, such as the Executive Service Corps and Reserve. Most seek to match older Americans with positions that make good use of their particular skills.

I regularly find interesting articles on Next Avenue and from journalists such as Richard Eisenberg and Kerry Hannon who cover retirement issues. Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.35.33 PMMy favorite writer covering this field is Nancy Collamer (my sister), whose “My Lifestyle Career” site and recent 100 Great Second-Act Career Resources cover many of the issues I’ve discussed here, as well as “flexible gigs,” online courses for seniors and resources for everyone from foodies to pet lovers.

Screen Shot 2018-01-31 at 9.36.14 PMFor the next five months, Champa and I will remain focused on the rest of our Peace Corps service. Here, too, plentiful online resources exist to motivate us. Not long ago, one RPCV group selected the 8 Best Blogs to Follow About Peace Corps, a list that included the blog you’re reading now. IMG_2013(Thanks, Friends & RPCVs of Guyana!)

Champa and I are most looking forward to taking a break and spending time with our family and friends after being away for so long. We really miss them, as you can tell from these photos we took during our trip home last summer. Simultaneously, we know we will eventually catch our breath and get serious about “what’s next?”

If anyone reading this has suggestions or wants to share something from their own lives, we’ll read your comments with interest — and perhaps others will, too.

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Two Talks in Durham

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Champa and I are coming home for a short vacation with our family. While we’re in Durham, we will be giving two presentations about our Peace Corps experience:

  • A private talk for Duke University friends at 4 p.m., July 10, Office of News and Communications. RSVP (required) to Sakiya Lockett.
  • A public talk  at 4 p.m. July 11 at the East Durham Regional Library, together with Chris Cardona, a returned volunteer (China) who is the local Peace Corps recruiter. See the poster below for details.

Earlier during our visit we will be joining returned volunteers from the Philadelphia area in marching in that city’s Fourth of July parade. If you’re watching in front of Independence Hall, check out who’s carrying the flags for Moldova and Nepal.

Please come join us if you are in the area!

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Durham in Moldova

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Duke Chapel, the Durham Bulls Athletic Park and the American Tobacco Campus are among the destinations I’ll be featuring today.

Wait, you’re thinking, isn’t this blog about our experiences as “not exactly retired” Peace Corps volunteers in Eastern Europe?

Yes, exactly. On Thursday, we handed out souvenir postcards of Durham, N.C., as prizes for students competing in geography quizzes we held during two presentations we gave in the town of Criuleni. Watching them react to the Durham bull and other landmarks from back home was an experience we won’t forget.

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Who wants to answer the geography question and win a postcard from Durham, N.C.?

My friends at the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau gave me the cards before Champa and I left to join the Peace Corps last spring. Thanks anew to Shelly Green (@DCVBPrez) and her colleagues for helping us show off our home town with people we’ve met in Moldova. (Durham! Fresh Daily with great restaurants, arts and entertainment!)

As I’ve written before, North Carolina has a special relationship with Moldova. Just in my group, we have volunteers from Asheville, Boone, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Raleigh and, of course, Durham.

Champa and I went to Criuleni to help commemorate Peace Corps Week, the annual celebration of  President Kennedy’s founding of the Peace Corps on March 1, 1961. We joined other volunteers and country director Tracey Hébert-Seck in speaking at a week-long series of events organized by volunteers Chris Flowers and Rebecca Lehman. Further to the south, in Causeni, volunteer Anne Reed and her colleagues are planning a big event on Saturday to celebrate Peace Corps Week and International Women’s Month.

img_2938In our two presentations, Champa and I highlighted Peace Corps activities around the world. Our quizzes challenged the students to match photographs of Peace Corps volunteers with the countries where they served. In the middle photo of the three-photo strip above, for example, the boy is guessing which Peace Corps photos came from Albania, China or Swaziland. We also showed a video of our 2015 trip to Nepal and this video featuring people from 156 countries joining together to sing “All You Need Is Love.”

I don’t know whether Moldovan tourists will now start arriving in droves in the Bull City. But if they do, I’m sure they’ll enjoy themselves, whether they watch a show at DPAC, an exhibition at the Nasher Museum of Art, the Hayti Heritage Center, the weekly farmers’ market or a local beer at Fullsteam. After all, I have the postcards to prove it.

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