Retired couple's next stop: Peace Corps

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Jan and Leslie Czechowski, both 60-somethings, are living proof that it is never too late for adventure.

On the cusp of retirement, the Peters couple said they have led full and happy lives and have had successful careers that are drawing to a close. With their two children now grown and raising families of their own, the Czechowskis agree that they'd like "to give something back" by joining the Peace Corps as volunteers.

Peace Corps statistics show that 90 percent of its members are single with an average age of 28.

The Czechowskis are both 63 and longtime educators. Mrs. Czechowski worked as an assistant director at the Health Sciences Library system at the University of Pittsburgh; her husband is a James G. Blaine Distinguished Visiting Professor of theater at Washington & Jefferson College in Washington, Pa.

On June 5, they'll be retired and headed for a 26-month tour of duty with the Peace Corps in the East European country of Moldova.

The couple was first attracted to the Peace Corps in the late 1980s when Mr. Czechowski helped implement the Peace Corps Prep Program at Grinnell College in Iowa, where he worked as a professor for 23 years. The program attempted to help bolster the resumes of potential volunteers.

"In the late 1980s, when college president George Drake wanted more of his students to join the Peace Corps, I got to know the organization fairly well as head of the prep program," Mr. Czechowski said. "When he stepped down as president, he and his wife joined the Corps and served in Lesotho, a country in Southern Africa. They were an inspiration to us both."

After applying to the Peace Corps, the couple had to wait a full year for the requisite health and background screening process to be completed.

They were accepted and placed to work in Moldova, a country about the size of Maryland with about 4.3 million residents.

Following a staging orientation in June at a not-yet-determined destination in the U.S., the Czechowskis will depart for Moldova with about 30 other new Peace Corps recruits.

"Moldova is a relatively poor country but interested in joining the European Union," said Mr. Czechowski, who did his homework. "The government wants to develop the country's infrastructure and diversify its primarily agrarian economy. Our job there will be to assist local partners in promoting local volunteerism as community and organizational development advisers."

During the first three months, the Czechowskis will live with a host family to become fully immersed in the country's language and culture. Then they expect to be assigned to a rural community where they will live and work for two years with the local residents.

"Initially, we're not sure that we'll be placed in the same family home, but ultimately we expect to live together," Mrs. Czechowski said. "In Moldova, the Corps places its volunteers in small communities of between 1,000 and 7,000 residents, and we may not end up living in an apartment but in a family home," she noted.

"When you join the Peace Corps, you have to be flexible."

The Corps will pay for all the couple's travel expenses and give them a stipend based on the average income of the residents of their host community. The stipend will cover expenses for food, housing, transportation and clothing. The Corps also will provide health insurance.

At the moment, the Czechowskis are trying to sell their house in Peters and are preparing to store their furniture. If their home doesn't sell quickly, they will rent it.

Both have volunteer experience. Mr. Czechowski worked on regularly for Habitat for Humanity, and Mrs. Czechowski tutored English for the Greater Pittsburgh Literacy Council. Following their 26-month service with the Peace Corps, they plan to return home, reconnect with their previous volunteer organizations and spend time with their two children and grandchildren.

neigh_south - neigh_washington

Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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