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Peace Corps community grows with Pittsburgh chapter

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By Ellen Mitchell
Thursday, Aug. 19, 2010
 

As Peace Corps volunteers across the United States prepare to mark the organization's 50th anniversary next year, members of the Pittsburgh Area Peace Corps celebrated being the newest community-member group of the National Peace Corps Association.

Nearly 50 friends and fellow Peace Corps volunteers gathered Saturday in Mt. Lebanon for a potluck dinner, bringing plates of specialties from the countries where they served, including Nicaragua, Russia and Mongolia.

Ann Bozik, chapter leader of the Pittsburgh Area Peace Corps, became involved after she moved to Pittsburgh from Boston two years ago. Her two young daughters, Piper and Molly, sported pink Peace Corps T-shirts, both wearing name tags introducing each as a "Future Volunteer."

"We're just trying to build the Peace Corps community," said Bozik, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua from 1993 to 1995. "Wherever you go, wherever you move, it's nice to know there's always a group of like-minded people that you'll be able to share your experiences with."

Jonathan Pearson, advocacy coordinator for the National Peace Corps Association, attended the event to welcome the Pittsburgh contingent as the 140th member group. The National Peace Corps Association differs from the Peace Corps in that it focuses on the community of returned volunteers instead of recruiting new ones.

"These are some of the best ambassadors for the Peace Corps' experience and way to bring attention to key global issues," said Pearson, who volunteered in Micronesia from 1987 to 1989. "We're here to connect people, inform them and help them take the next step in changing the world once they return home."

Cynthia Vanda, 73, of Oakland, volunteered for the Peace Corps after the organization started in 1961. Having just earned her master's degree at the University of Pittsburgh, Vanda wanted to work overseas, but no government agencies would hire her. Inspired by the famous inaugural address of President Kennedy, Vanda saw the Peace Corps as a quick way to get overseas and make a difference.

"With the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corp coming up, it's also my 50th anniversary since I've joined," said Vanda, who volunteered in Nigeria and stayed there after her time in the Peace Corps had ended. "It's a big milestone."

Pearson said he is glad the Pittsburgh Area Peace Corps is thriving and hopes the organization will continue to grow.

"Some of the time we meet people that have no idea the Peace Corps still exists," Pearson said. "Groups like the one here in Pittsburgh let people know that not only is the Peace Corps growing and thriving, but it's needed now as much as ever."

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