50 + PCVs

Within the last years of his tour as Peace Corps Director, Ron T­­schetter   launched an effort to target and recruit older Volunteers. This sort of effort has a history within the agency. It has been tried by various directors in years past, going back to Shriver. Ron, by the way, served with “senior cititzen” Lillian Carter, the president’s mother, back in 1968. Recruiting older PCVs is a worthy effort. When I was the Regional Manager of the New York Recruitment Office, Recruiters actively sought out older applicants who proved to be outstanding Volunteers, some returning home to sign up for a second and third tour.

It is not an unwise decision to retire at 55 from a school system in the US, stash the social security checks and TIAA/CREF monies, and let the government pay for two years of travel, adventure, and doing good in the world as a PCV.

Older Volunteers, however, are typically harder to recruit, harder to process, and harder to keep overseas. They come into the Peace Corps with lots of medical baggage and full lives of responsibilities and obligations and, oh, lets not forget, grandchildren. Not many grandmothers like being away from the grandchildren for two years.

Older Volunteers have obligations, homes, and sometimes full employment. It is not ease for them to fit into the weird recruitment cycle that the Peace Corps maintains. It is one thing for a Twentysomething to get word from the Peace Corps to be in New York City in two days to leave for Dembidolo, Ethiopia. Most young people can pack a backpack, kiss Mom goodbye, and be on the plane that afternoon. 

The Peace Corps today has approximately 6% of its Volunteers over the age of 50, and the average age of all PCV is 27. These figures, I’d bet, haven’t changed much in nearly fifty years. Only the 60% women and the 40% men today is significantly different from the first days.   

Yes, it costs money, effort and time to recruit the old, but it is well worth the effort. We all know the advantages of having older PCVs in the village and our schools. Older PCVs bring respect and honor to the Peace Corps. They add wisdom and value to wherever they serve.

But to recruit and keep them in the system, the Peace Corps needs a different recruitment cycle, one that is aware of and pays homage to the experience, obligations, and medical limitations that senior bring to the recruitment table.

The new Director needs to establish within HQ an Office for Older Volunteers, adjust the medical restrictions, plan on accepting more ETs from the +50 age group, and be aware as well that while older Volunteers do ET at a higher rate, they also are more likely to extend their tours. It is worth the time, money and effort for the agency to recruit and select more older PCVs.

After all, when I get to be a Senior Citizen, I’m going to need somewhere to go!