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Greene: Vermont Volunteers

We Vermonters give generously of our time. According to Volunteering in America, our small state ranks 12th in per capita volunteerism nationally, with 33.7% of us volunteering in our communities. Utah leads the charge with 44.6%.

We help out at schools, through social service and religious organizations, working on boards, delivering meals on wheels, and increasingly, on challenging projects that call us far away from home. In fact, Vermont ranks second nationally after Washington DC in producing Peace Corps volunteers.

Daniel Sayner is a retired government worker and 1980 Olympic rower who moved to Vermont with his wife, Elizabeth Macalaster, in 2006. Both avid competitors, they settled in South Newfane to enjoy the rowing club nearby on the Connecticut River.

Sayner has always has a strong service ethic. He was a Red Cross volunteer helping in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005. When he moved to VT, he once again volunteered after Tropical Storm Irene.

In 2014, Sayner turned 60, in excellent health. He began seriously looking into joining the Peace Corps, a dream he’d deferred for decades.

Most of the volunteers are 22-28 years old, and single. But there’s been an aggressive campaign to attract older volunteers to the Corps, since they can bring wisdom and stability to the program. Now fully 7% are over 50.

The Corps is also very careful to make sure couples understand the strain of being separated for two years. With her work here, Macalaster was clear that she wouldn’t be going along.

With his wife’s blessing, Sayner applied, trying to keep his expectations realistic. But he just kept passing the tests.

In February, Sayner flew to Tanzania as a full fledged Peace Corps Trainee. For the first three months, volunteers live with families to immerse themselves in the local culture and learn Swahili. He finds the language very challenging, and it’s taken awhile to acclimate to equatorial heat and humidity.

About a third of the volunteers leave before their two years are up, but Sayner doesn’t anticipate being one of them, having served overseas in the Marines. He points out that the vast majority of Peace corps volunteers find the program deeply satisfying.

Sayner has just passed his Swahili exams and will be sworn as a full fledged volunteer on April 22nd. Then he’ll go to his assignment in a village in the highlands, where he’ll work as a health educator in HIV and AIDS prevention.

Meanwhile he and Macalaster talk once a week via cell phone, grateful for this midlife adventure.