For more than 50 years, thousands of Americans seeking life-changing experiences or career opportunities have decided to help others through the Peace Corps.
Longtime Naperville Resident, Brad Merryman has dedicated his retirement to helping people in need.
After a 25-year career in the Information Technology industry, he accepted an invitation to serve in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica.
“I was able to work in a small rural, mountain top town, very poor, a lot of poverty. In working in that community, they felt that they were lacking information technology and access to the Internet in which they were. They wanted to build a computer lab. It sounds simple on the surface but we were able to leverage our project management skills so we were able to lead them doing the work,” said Merryman. “They built an addition to a small school where they installed 12 computers with Internet access.”
Now back in the states, Merryman is taking on the role of Regional Manager, where he will oversee the recruitment process and promote awareness to thousands of people living in the Midwest’s 11 state region.
Currently, Illinois is home to the most Peace Corps volunteers in the Midwest, with over 265 active recruits from the Chicagoland area.
They’re asked to serve in one of 139 countries.
“You’re invited to serve for a period of 27 months all in the same country all in the same place. Three months of that is intensive training. You learn technical skills you learn language skills and you learn how you can adapt in that culture so you can go to your site for the remainder of your service which is a full two years and become fully immersed in that site, and become a part of that community and learn what their leads are and then help them in their areas of need,” said Merryman.
Volunteers are nominated for service and then matched up with a program based on their skills and interests. For Nora Heneghan that was education. The Naperville resident taught high school in Ukraine during her two-year service.
“They were learning English and our mentality and making it their own and they all loved it and wrote letters to the donors saying that it changed their lives and that’s just an amazing thing to take home,” said Nora Heneghan, a graduate from Illinois State University.
While there, she also wrote grants for community events, helped prepare the medical community for last year’s Euro Cup, and also started a community camp for kids.
“They get to see American ideas and we learned from them as well about games they play and how they learn,” she said. “It’s one of those great opportunities to have that kind of give take and provide these sustainable programs that these kids are going to teach their kids.”
Both Merryman and Heneghan agree, the volunteers benefit just as much as the people they serve.
“It’s just amazing if you think about the impact just to their lives to them being able to further their education and reach their dreams and escape poverty so it’s pretty powerful,” Merryman said.
“It’s a great adventure, it stays with you your entire life. You’re a representative of the country and you’ll never get another experience like that.” Heneghan added.
Merryman says the best way to find out more about the Peace Corps is to talk to a fellow volunteer. Approximately 4,000 new volunteers are needed each year.
For more information visit peacecorps.gov.
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