Twenty individuals who are about to embark on journeys of service were recently honored for their commitment to the Peace Corps, and one special award was given to a man who has used his own experiences with the organization to inspire others to volunteer.
Jack Campbell, Peace Corps recruiter for Ohio State and a retired Peace Corps volunteer, was announced as the 2015 Lillian Carter Award recipient. The award is given to exceptional volunteers who served over the age of 50.
“Once you’ve got gray hair, you can still contribute,” said Campbell, who added that he wants people to know that, no matter an individual’s age, he or she can make a real difference.
Campbell was presented with the award at the 2015 Ohio State Peace Corps banquet Friday, which honors students from OSU and surrounding colleges and universities who have recently been accepted into the Peace Corps.
The Peace Corps is a U.S. government service organization that sets Americans up with work sites and projects in other countries. The minimum age to join is 18, and currently about 7,200 volunteers and trainees are in the program, with 65 host countries involved.
Volunteers typically serve for two years after training and are provided with a housing and living stipend through the program, as well as complete dental and medical care during service and the cost of travel to and from the country, according to the Peace Corps website.
Some types of federal student loans are also eligible for partial cancellation benefits or deferments through the program, and after returning, the program provides $7,425 before taxes to help volunteers transition back into everyday life.
The banquet served as a celebration for the invitees who made it through the difficult application and interview process, Campbell said.
“It’s to honor the invitees. They’ve gone through probably the last six to nine months of a small amount of torment. Once you send in your application, you don’t know right away if you’ll be accepted or not, and so it’s kind of like walking on eggshells. And these individuals persevered and their application was accepted and now they’re all very happy they’ll be going abroad shortly,” Campbell said.
Campbell knows from personal experience how challenging the application process is, as he applied to the Peace Corps at 58 and served two tours in Fiji and Botswana.
“I didn’t get into Peace Corps until I was 58 and I had been in California working with major financial institutions and insurance companies, got tired, got bored with what I was doing,” he said. “(I) did a little writing and from there became an (AmeriCorps) VISTA volunteer in San Diego and I liked it so much I decided I would try to get into Peace Corps. I sent in my application, and lo and behold, they accepted me and sent me to Fiji, and that was my first tour. I was a business adviser.”
Bryanna Dickson, a third-year in economics, is set to leave for Panama on June 16. She described the application process as one of the most nerve-racking processes she has ever experienced.
“I was (checking) my email inbox like every five minutes after I had the interview. You’re on pins and needles,” Dickson said.
Campbell was one of the many returned Peace Corps volunteers in attendance at the banquet to offer advice and congratulate the newly inducted Peace Corps members.
Regional recruiter for Southwest Ohio Katie Sylvester is also a returned Peace Corps volunteer, who served a tour in Zambia as a health volunteer. She told the students preparing to leave for their tour to not do too much research.
“I would say be excited, and there is a thing as doing too much research. When I went we didn’t have access to Facebook and all that kind of stuff,” she said. “So I tell people only go in with two expectations: the expectation that you’re going to not only change your life but others’ lives, and that Peace Corps is going to be there to take care of you. Everything else is up in the air.”
Dickson said the best part of the banquet for her was getting to hear from the returned volunteers who have been through similar experiences.
“It was nice to talk to some of the other Peace Corps volunteers. I actually got to talk to someone who served in Panama in the 1960s, and kind of hearing different perspectives and stories from the different countries, it’s been really fun,” she said.
Former Democratic Ohio state Rep. Ted Celeste was also in attendance at the banquet. Celeste served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Fiji from 1968-70, and shared experiences from his time abroad.
When originally assigned to the Fiji islands, Celeste said his first thought was “where are they?” But Celeste said the tour became one of the best experiences of his life.
Parker Jones, a fourth-year in environmental science, said he originally decided to join the Peace Corps for the life-changing experience Celeste and many other returned Peace Corps volunteers speak of.
“I just started being introspective my sophomore year, like what’s the purpose of me getting my degree, do I just want to earn a paycheck and live in the Midwest?” Jones said. “I really want to make the world a different place and apply my knowledge to something that matters, and I can’t think of any better opportunity than Peace Corps.”
Campbell will receive the Lillian Carter award on May 13 in Atlanta.
After the award ceremony in Atlanta, Campbell said he will be retiring from his role as campus recruiter and will be replaced by a regional recruiter, who will serve OSU as well as the other surrounding colleges and universities.
Campbell said he knows firsthand how the Peace Corps can change a person’s life.
“I was about to give it all up … and lo and behold, it presented a challenge for me that I took on and met and as a result of that I grew considerably as an individual,” he said.