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Peace Corps recruits older volunteers

More retirees and grandparents are finding fulfillment in serving overseas.

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Diane Gallagher was in her early 50s and divorced when she faced a question common to many empty-nesters: What's next?

"My four children had graduated from college and had jobs and apartments," says Ms. Gallagher of Brookline, Mass. "It was time to give back the gifts I had received."

That desire to give back led to an adventurous choice: joining the Peace Corps at a stage when many people would consider such a step impossible. In 1990 she was assigned to the Republic of Cape Verde, 380 miles off the coast of Senegal in West Africa.

"I rented out the condo, sold the car, gave the cat to a cousin, said goodbye to my children, and got on the plane at Logan, not looking back," she says. "My son and daughter were watching me go through the gate. It was very hard, but I knew they would be OK, and I knew I would be OK. Sometimes you just have to trust."

Trust and open-mindedness are among the qualities the Peace Corps is seeking as it launches an initiative this month to attract more midlife and older volunteers like Gallagher. It is a timely push, as volunteering in America has reached an all-time high.

"It is a way to enhance and deepen and broaden what the Peace Corps is all about," says Ronald Tschetter, director. "Those who are 50-plus bring 30 to 35 years of expertise and knowledge to the opportunity to serve." He emphasizes that they are an adjunct to younger volunteers, not a replacement for them. People can go singly or as couples.

Those in this age group typically account for 5 percent of volunteers. Officials want to increase that to 10 percent in the coming year, then add another 5 percent the following year. A new website, www.peacecorps.gov/50plus, outlines the program.

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