CoastLine: How Peace Corps service influenced four volunteers . . .

In the news
WHQR, Wilmington, NC
February 26, 2024

left to right: Returned Peace Corps volunteers Shannon Rae Gentry (Tonga), Tom Dorgan (Ukraine), Susan Prentice (Armenia), Linsey McGrath (Namibia) (RLH)


Since 1961, the Peace Corps, envisioned and created by President John F. Kennedy, has sent volunteers around the globe to help developing countries.  The obvious aim is to meet the goals identified by the host country – not the Americans.  But just as important are the relationships that develop from this work, promoting world peace and friendship.
“How many of you who are going to be doctors, are willing to spend your days in Ghana?… on your willingness to contribute part of your life, I think will depend the answer whether a free society can compete.”

Those are the words of then-Senator John F. Kennedy, delivered in a 2 AM impromptu speech at the University of Michigan. It was October 14, 1960, during his presidential campaign, when Kennedy articulated his idea for a Peace Corps. Just five months later, President Kennedy signed an Executive Order turning that vision into reality.

The mission of the Peace Corps is clear and simple: to promote world peace and friendship by providing developing countries with skilled workers who will assist with projects defined by the host country.

As of February 2024, Peace Corps volunteers serve in fifty-eight countries and upon returning, often call the experience life-changing. Each year, the agency celebrates Peace Corps week, usually around its anniversary of March 1st. In 2024 from February 25 through March 2, the celebratory theme is Optimism in Action.

Regardless of country assignment or even the nature of the job, people often find strong parallels concerning the lessons they learn, the way their thinking changes, and even the challenges they face. For example, it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed by the choice and abundance simply re-entering an American grocery store. The lessons: gratitude, more isn’t always better. Everyone also seems to have an awkward pooping story. Takeaway 1: always bring your own toilet paper, and 2: if you care about privacy or the way your hair looks, Peace Corps work is probably not for you.

The people we meet in this episode completed their service in Ukraine, Tonga, Namibia, and Armenia.


Segment 1:  Susan Prentice, Armenia, 2010-2012
Susan Prentice holds the Armenian flag in WHQR's studio / February 2024

Susan Prentice holds the Armenian flag in WHQR’s studio / February 2024 (RLH)

Susan Prentice knew she wanted to travel after retiring from her paralegal career in 2010. She’d already trained hundreds of people on fundraising walks for breast cancer, so she understood the rewards of volunteerism. But she wanted to challenge herself. After signing up with the Peace Corps, she landed in a small village in Armenia, teaching English from 2010 to 2012.
Armenia in winter

Armenia in winter by Susan Prentice


Segment 2:  Shannon Rae Gentry, Tonga, 2007-2009 and Tom Dorgan, Ukraine, 2002-2004

Shannon Rae Gentry is the current President of the Coastal Carolina Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. She served in Tonga from 2007 to 2009.

Tom Dorgan with his host mother in Ukraine

Tom Dorgan with his host mother in Ukraine

As it happens, she and her husband, Tom Dorgan, met and bonded because of their Peace Corps experience, although it was not together. He went to Ukraine from 2000 to 2002.
The dormitory in Ukraine where Tom Dorgan stayed during his service

The dormitory in Ukraine where Tom Dorgan stayed during his service


Segment 3:  Linsey McGrath, Namibia, 2004-2006
Linsey McGrath in Namibia

Linsey McGrath in Namibia

Linsey McGrath, wanted to go to Africa more than any other place in the world.  While she’d had visions of joining the Peace Corps since her teenage years, it wasn’t until she passed the half-century mark that she found her way to the office in Boston, sat down in front of someone who looked, to her, like a 12-year-old, and signed up.


Rachel Lewis Hilburn

Rachel hosts and produces CoastLine, an award-winning hourlong conversation featuring artists, humanitarians, scholars, and innovators in North Carolina. The show airs Wednesdays at noon and Sundays at 2 pm on 91.3 FM WHQR Public Media. It’s also available as a podcast; just search CoastLine WHQR. You can reach her at


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