Returned Peace Corps volunteers continue service at home
by: Amanda Morales Staff Writer
Years after serving abroad, Peace Corps volunteers work on projects throughout Sarasota.
Jan Mazer, who served in Uganda from 1993 to 1995 for the Peace Corps, remembers how difficult it was to transition back to American society when she returned. “It changes you so much,” she said. “That’s the one thing we all share with the Peace Corps; we are not the person who went in. We come back an entirely different human being.” More than 20 years later, Mazer admits that when it rains, she has the urge to stick a bucket outside to catch water, a habit she formed while serving in Nejje, Uganda, as an education teacher trainer. The other habit she and fellow returned Peace Corps volunteers can’t shake is the call to help. In 2006, the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Gulf Coast of Florida formed as a way for volunteers to bond and share their stories.
“What makes our Peace Corps group so valuable is that these people, who are returned Peace Corps volunteers, have essentially had their brains rewired to see the human condition and we’re bringing it back to Sarasota,” -Phil Yoder, returned Peace Corps Volunteer
Returned Peace Corps volunteers Angela Mejicanos and Mollie Marron started the group in 2006. It began with 20 members in the first meeting and now has more than 180. One of the 10 expectations of a Peace Corps volunteer is to “represent responsibly the people, cultures, values and traditions of your host country and community to people in the United States both during and following your service.” It’s a promise the group wants to uphold by using its volunteering experience. “As a group, we’re trying to become stronger, and there are a lot of needs in Sarasota,” said Betty Bruquetas, who served in the Solomon Islands from 1993 to 1995.
Courtesy photo. Members of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Gulf Coast of Florida gathered school supplies at a recent group barbecue.
Before the start of school, the group hosted a barbecue to collect school supplies and were able to outfit 53 children with supplies at the North Sarasota Public Library. Another need the group is recognizing businesses in town that focus on environmental sustainability. Its newest project is the inaugural Gulf Coast Returned Peace Corps Volunteers Awards Ceremony scheduled for March 25. For the past few months, volunteers have been working to improve the reading garden at the North Sarasota Public Library. “Their donations have helped to provide consistent programs in the reading garden, and library staff have been able to share the joy of gardening and nature with children,” said Mary Brown, North Sarasota Public Library manager.
Standing edible garden boxes were built by returned Peace Corps volunteer Phil Yoder.
Phil Yoder, 51, helped build the wooden boxes for an edible container garden in the reading garden. Yoder, who served in Ecuador from 1988 to 1990, remains active in the South American country, where he has a home and is inspired by the deforestation to practice sustainable carpentry. “What makes our Peace Corps group so valuable is that these people, who are returned Peace Corps volunteers, have essentially had their brains rewired to see the human condition and we’re bringing it back to Sarasota,” Yoder said.