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AMERICORPS MEMBER, YVONNE PECHA
Yvonne Pecha, 60, is a volunteer coordinator for the Cowlitz AmeriCorps Network in Longview, Washington. This is Pecha's second year in the Cowlitz AmeriCorps program. She liked her first year so much she signed on for a second one. She works with all the volunteers at community service agencies throughout their county. These include volunteers in the social service agencies, mental health facilities, schools etc. In addition, she mentors in schools teaching a "Superheroes" program where she gets first and second graders interested in community service.
On her team of 30 that did the year together in the AmeriCorps program, about half was baby boomers. The other half WERE in their late teens or 20s. They all go to host sites or sponsoring organizations like Head Start, Habitat for Humanity, public schools and libraries, the Lower Columbia Mental Health Group and the Emergency Support Group (which provides support for domestic violence.)
Each AmeriCorps member receives a stipend or living allowance of $1,060 a month if you do the program full time and $560 a month if do it part time. It's an 11-month commitment, full time is 1700 hours and part-time is 900 hours. Fulfilling the service commitment means participants receive an education award of $4725 to go towards school. "That is really a good incentive even for a baby boomer. Once I get done [with this year] I'm going back to school. I'm interested in business but I'm going to take some classes in piano, nutrition, psychology and sociology."
The Superheroes Kids program: "One of my pet projects is working on getting children to volunteer in the community. I go around to the schools and talk to children about volunteering and get them engaged before they get into trouble. We have a list of 22 things they can do to volunteer." First and second graders participate in activities like forming a club that shows around new kids at school, helping out neighbors or volunteering at the Humane Society. "We try and focus on the little ones because if we can get them aware of the environment at such a young age once they get into the middle school they have less of a tendency to get involved in anti-social behavior. We try to promote caring about your environment and about other people. If they start out and feel good about it they will want to do it when they're older."
Pecha worked in market research for 20 years for Consumer Opinion Services. Her husband retired in 2004 and she decided to retire then too. After two years she was frustrated. "I didn't like it [retirement.] I found myself getting up, showering, putting on my makeup and then putting on my pajamas again. It felt empty. When you're used to working all your life it feels empty not to be around people. I wanted to be busy and give back to my community."
Pecha picked AmeriCorps because it was a structured program. "I got all these things started with Superheroes Kids and I wanted to do it another year to see it through. People my age can make a big difference in the community by sharing their skills and what they've learned in life. I will be a volunteer forever. I believe it is the fountain of youth. When you are helping others you don't focus on your aches and pains or problems. It gives you the opportunity to make the world better. Anything to make the world better for my 11 grandkids is great."
Pecha imagines after this year is up she will probably continue with the same agency through AmeriCorps, not for the stipend but on the side "for my own good feeling. I probably won't be doing 40 hours a week because I want to travel a little bit."