Students and former Peace Corps volunteers gathered on the Plaza of the Americas on Wednesday afternoon to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps.
“We want to commemorate 50 years of service and get students interested,” said Amy Panikowski, the UF Peace Corps recruiter and a former Peace Corps volunteer. “If this event just gets people thinking, that’s all we want.”
According to Panikowski, the UF Peace Corps branch has been around for more than 20 years, and, as of September 2010, is second in the nation for the number of undergraduate students (97) and graduate students (20) currently volunteering.
Panikowski encouraged students interested in applying to come see her.
Service organizations, such as Volunteers for International Student Affairs (VISA), UF Amnesty International, Gators for HIV Education (GHIVE) and the Coalition of Hispanics Integrating Spanish sPeakers Through Advocacy and Service (CHISPAS), tabled at the event to provide students with more information on how to get involved and make their Peace Corps applications more competitive.
Joanna Klager, a second-year English major, stopped as she was walking past. She wanted to gather more information on the Peace Corps because she wants to teach English in West Africa someday.
“This event was really helpful,” said Klager. “And the student organizations were beneficial to applying for the Peace Corps.”
Trent Blare, clad in the traditional gear of the tribe he stayed with, came to the event to share his experience in Ecuador with others.
“The Peace Corps has done so many wonderful things, and it’s time to celebrate them,” Blare said. “They’ve had a great impact on our lives, on our country and on the image of the U.S. around the world.”
Blare spent his time in Ecuador applying the agricultural skills he learned as an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska. He lived with a host family and said that his work was unpredictable — he would be so busy one day and then not so busy the next, but he always did what the community needed done, which included teaching kids computer skills and showing adults how to chop with a machete.
“The Peace Corps isn’t for everyone,” Blare said. “But you learn so much, and you’re so proud of what you’ve done by helping another part of the world and making a difference. It stays with you for the rest of your life.”