{Passion Projects} Meet 2 FOFs who joined the Peace Corps

In 1966, at the age of 68, “Presidential Mama” Lillian Carter flew to India to serve in the Peace Corps for 21 months. At the time, she seemed like an outlier, but today, seven percent of Peace Corps volunteers are FOFs (the oldest is an 86 year-old woman serving in Morocco). And this past month, the Peace Corps turned 50 itself! To help celebrate this milestone, we spoke to two FOFs: Connie Ross, on the cusp of her commitment, and Dena Fisher, well into her service in Belize.

Connie M. Ross

Age: 50
Peace Corps Service: Leaving for Georgia [the country] at the end of April to work as a facilitator of a Business and Social Entrepreneurship program, helping people build businesses that are sustainable.

Where in the U.S. do you live?
Lakewood, Colorado.

Tell us a little about your life leading up to your decision to join the Peace Corps.
I was a clothing dealer and designer for fifteen years. When my husband passed away from brain cancer, I took my son on a nine-month trip around the world. We wrote for the Denver Post and an in-flight magazine. We’ve done five world trips since.

And that led to the decision to join the Peace Corps?

Many things culminated in this decision. After my first world trip, fifteen years ago, I knew that this part of my life was going to be spent working in other countries. Last year I worked as a program director for an English studies program at an all-women’s school in Kuwait. That was phenomenal, and I wanted to continue working abroad. When my job in Kuwait came to a close, I started looking for work. I saw listings for “Country Directors” in many different countries. I qualified in all ways, except for having Peace Corps experience.

Had you ever thought about joining before?
I applied to the Peace Corps when I was 21. But I had a knee injury and wasn’t qualified to serve. It’s always been in the back of my mind.

How does it feel to be going away for 27 months?
It’s what I’ve been doing all my life. My family is so accustomed to me leaving. Plus, I’ll have time off. We earn vacation time each month, and people can come and see me every month.

What are you most excited about?
I’m very excited to learn their language; it doesn’t come from any root language. I believe I’ll be fluent in some period of time – six months, nine months – being totally immersed in their culture.

Any anxiety or fear about it all?
No fear. I just came off a five-month solo trip; three months of it were in India. There were many times in the morning when I didn’t know where I was going to sleep at night. The world is an incredible place. And there are so many wonderful people to meet. Let’s just say that I’ve always had success in meeting wonderful people.

Connie’s book, Letters to My Son, comprising actual letters she wrote to Henry over the first eighteen years of his life, is available at Amazon.com.


Dena Fisher

Age: 66
Peace Corps Service: Currently in Belize, Central America, Community development/organizational management, 2010-2012

Where in the U.S. do you live?
New York City.

Tell us a little about your life leading up to your Peace Corps service.
I was a social worker for 20 years, then began a second career in public health. I retired at age 55 and became executive director of the New York City Office of Seeds of Peace, a program that brings children together from regions of conflict. I retired for the third time to lead a NYC-Nicaragua village sister city project.

What led to your decision to join the Peace Corps?
I was attracted by the energy of the 2008 election and what I believe is a new era in our relationships with Latin America. Social security, a state pension and medicare allowed me to do something where I didn’t have to earn a salary.

What was it like leaving your family to go abroad and work? Were they supportive?
My family is incredibly supportive, especially my husband. He had to take over family responsibilities including managing issues for my then-92-year-old mom. My mom died when I had been here in Belize for seven months, and the Peace Corps was amazingly supportive. I was able to continue service and deal with issues at home. I will never forget the help I got while I was helping others.

What about your friends?
My friends, on the other hand, think I am a bit nuts to be doing this. But they know I have always been interested in developing countries and making a difference. I regret that many of them – talented professionals – don’t use their skills in retirement.

Upon returning to the states, how will the experience change your outlook?
I’ll remain involved in developing countries, community health and social justice projects. I hope to continue with the Peace Corps response program – shorter term, specific projects.  I also hope to encourage young folks to get involved with the global community through the Peace Corps.

Anything else you think our readers would find interesting about your story?
I hope the stereotype of Peace Corps being about twenty-somethings will be debunked. I always knew about Jimmy Carter’s then-68-year-old mother in the Peace Corps, but never realized the full age range. One third of our group is over 55 years of age and I suspect that the average age is rising. I hope that men and women over 50 will consider the opportunity to make the world a better place by using their skills and experience, and receiving the incredible support available through the Peace Corps.

Please visit www.peacecorps.gov for more information, including 50th Anniversary events and activities. Go here to read the stories of more FOF volunteers.

[Guilt-free spring shopping! Shop your favorite stores through CafeGive and 5% goes to the charity of your choice.]

{Giveaway} Win a gift for you and for the charity of your choice!

FabOverFifty and CafeGive are giving away a $100 gift certificate to the FOF Shop! Anytime you shop through CafeGive this month, 5% of your purchase goes to one of five fab charities.

Thank you for entering. This contest is now closed.

To enter to win the gift card: Visit CafeGive to see all five charities, then comment below and tell us which of those charities you would like to support.

FOFs love to give. We also love to shop. This month, we’re partnering with CafeGive to help you give back while you’re shopping at some of your favorite stores. CafeGive will donate 5% of every purchase you make from fabulous shops such as Nordstrom, Soft Surroundings and our own store. You choose where the 5% will go!

To kick it off, we are giving one lucky FOF a $100 shopping spree to the FOF Shop.

Enter to win by visiting CafeGive to see the charities you can choose. Then comment below to tell us which of those charities you would most like to support.

(See all our past winners. See official rules. Five winners are chosen at random from all those commenters who answer the question. Contest closes April 14, 2011.)

{Passion Projects} Before FOF Shirley Enebrad’s son died, he made her promise just one thing…

“People don’t want to hear that kids die from cancer. They just want to cover their ears and pretend it’s not happening.” – FOF Shirley Enebrad, Candlelighters of Western Washington

FOF Shirley Enebrad’s son was diagnosed with leukemia in 1980. He was three and a half years old. Before he died, at age nine, he made her promise one thing: “Cory asked me to help other parents going through cancer treatment,” says Shirley. “At that time, chemotherapies and treatments were evolving, and the idea of emotional support wasn’t important,” she says. “With 85 percent of marriages not surviving chronic illness diagnosis, it can be extremely isolating. I wanted support.” But, there was not much support to be found in the Seattle area at that time. Shirley started some support groups on her own, but felt a whole organization should be dedicated to the cause.  That’s when she discovered Candlelighters, an organization with the mission of giving emotional support to families facing childhood cancer. “It [the mission] wasn’t really happening though,” said Shirley. The organization was working to build Seattle’s first Ronald McDonald House, a very important cause, but not Shirley’s vision of direct, hands-on support for parents and families coping with cancer. Shirley became president of the Candlelighters in the early 90s and helped refocus the organization. Today, the Candlelighters of Western Washington donates 100 percent of the funds it raises towards helping families directly. This includes funeral and emergency funds for financially devastated families, support groups, bereavement retreats and care bags. “Many of our board members have gone down the same scary path and are ‘lighting the way’ for those unfortunate people who have been forced to follow us,” says Shirley.Our needs are not as fun as a kids’ camp…or as exciting and hopeful as research, but for the families whose children are suffering right here and right now, the needs are very REAL.” Shirley just recently “passed the baton” to a new president but continues to stay active as a grief counselor for the Candlelighters. She has also  just written “Over the Rainbow Bridge,” a book about how Cory lived his life to the fullest despite his diagnosis. “I get tired but yes, I think I am fulfilling my promise to Cory,” she says.

Find out more about the Candlelighters of Western Washington and how you can help.

{Passion Projects} 3 FOFs Who Gave From Their Hearts (Not Their Pocketbooks)

Babbie Lovett
In 2007, FOF Babbie Lovett helped restore the Ken Theatre in McCrory, Arkansas from an abandoned movie house to a cutting edge performing arts center for children and adults who had little exposure to theater.

“The mayor of our town bought and renovated an old movie house, the Ken Theatre. I told him, you can’t have a movie house in a town our size, it just won’t pay. Let’s put in a stage and I’ll get the lights and the sound and we’ll have a production place where we can introduce theater to children. We started three years ago and it’s doing great. Kids and adults (many who have never been involved with the arts) are writing their own shows and having the best time.  It just proves that it doesn’t matter where you are, the creativity is there, it’s just a matter of exposure and opportunity.”

Sherry DeRosa

FOF Sherry DeRosa had been in and out of medical centers for months after being diagnosed with breast cancer. Frustrated with navigating the often-confusing medical system, she swore if she survived she would make changes so other women facing the same plight would have more choices and guidance. After being told she was cancer-free this past year, she started her advocacy services, Shining Light, to help people navigate the medical system and other life challenges. This past June she was named “Honorary Survivor” by Sacred Heart Hospital in Au Claire, Wisconsin.

“I was ‘the noisy patient.’ I’m passionate about improving care for women. I don’t care what cancer you have, when you walk in the door I want somebody to shake your hand and say, ‘I’m a survivor.'”

Alexis Marnel

FOF Alexis Marnel spent 13 years volunteering as an art counselor in group homes for troubled youth. In 2001 she formalized her volunteer work into an organization called The Artists Collective for Social Change.

“I bring art to people who do not have access to quality art education. I’ve realized I’m a ‘spiritually creative mother’ to these kids, many of whom don’t have parents. When I came to that realization, I just cried. The kids have such distinct memories based on art activities we did together. They send me e-mails and Facebook messages saying they remember cakes we sculpted together when they were 8–and now they’re adults. The other day I got a Facebook message that said, “Is this Ms. Alexis who took me to my first Broadway show?”