Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams and Hilary Kouhana.
The month of March marks the 49th anniversary of the Peace Corps, formed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Later, President Lyndon Johnson Started VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). The latest incarnation of VISTA is AmeriCorps.
These volunteer organizations have a special meaning to some San Marcos CISD educators who were involved in the programs. In the spirit of celebrating the anniversary of the Peace Corps, they have shared some of their remarkable stories of volunteering with students and staff this month.
Assistant Principal at San Marcos High School Hilary Kouhana worked as a Peace Corps volunteer for two years in Liberia, West Africa. Recently she attended a reception in Austin to meet Aaron Williams, the newly appointed Director of the Peace Corps by President Barack Obama.
Williams is also a former Peace Corps volunteer who worked from 1967-1970 in the Dominican Republic. He also was a USAID mission director in South Africa during Nelson Mandela’s tenure as President.
Kouhana said that Williams shared his thoughts and vision for the global work of the Peace Corps at the reception.
Fred Deibel, a San Marcos High School art teacher, was a VISTA volunteer. Deibel said he applied for the Peace Corps, but because he had been an Air National Guard intelligence specialist, he was offered a VISTA position, where his training and experiences in the military could augment the program.
VISTA’s focus is on poverty, homelessness, hunger and education. Deibel worked in Southern Idaho with housing programs for migrant workers and the youth challenge program.
“I think my greatest satisfaction was to talk with high school students I worked with, to hear their great experiences, to see them grow up to continue volunteering in their community, and to get their own children involved in the volunteer spirit,” said Deibel. “This was the beginning of a great educational wave of integrating service learning projects into curriculums in schools at all levels from elementary to high school and college. I will always remember my many friends in Idaho and Washington, and the great unique qualities of the people and environment there.”
Stephanie Henderson, an Instructional Assistant at Miller Middle School, was an Americorps volunteer in Austin last year. She often tells students about the challenges and rewards of volunteering.
Jan Rudnicki, the librarian at Travis Elementary School, said “in a former life” she volunteered for two years in the Peace Corp with 300 natives on the tiny atoll of Italik in Micronesia. She also spent a summer on an anthropological expedition in the Amazon.
Now, she shows students where these places are, shares some of her experiences and helps young readers check out books on the subjects.
She said she is looking forward to the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps next year.
A Texas State favorite son, Johnson, probably summed it up best when he famously said to the first group of VISTA volunteers in 1964, “Your pay will be low; the conditions of your labor often will be difficult. But you will have the satisfaction of leading a great national effort and you will have the ultimate reward which comes to those who serve their fellow man.”
Fred Deibel’s Idaho VISTA volunteers.
Jan Rudnicki, Travis Elementary School librarian, tells students about the tiny atoll of Italik in Micronesia.Email | Print