10 New VISTA Volunteers Pledge Year to Hurricane Recovery
MIAMI (AP) _ Barry Glenn had just finished a long career at General Motors, one that provided for his family and should have left him at ease in his suburban New Jersey retirement.
Problem was, he couldn’t shake the pictures of children standing in long food lines in the days after Hurricane Andrew razed south Dade County.
″I had it pretty good,″ said Glenn, 59, of Edison, N.J. ″I don’t want to sound too holy roller, but I want to help someone else for once. I have my health, I have my energy, I have my mental capacity and I don’t want to waste it.″
So after only several months of retirement, Glenn headed for Miami, where he was sworn in with nine other federal VISTA volunteers last week.
The Volunteers in Service to America have pledged to spend one year - living on $639 a month - working with low-income victims of the Aug. 24 storm. They’re being sponsored by United Way of Dade County, which received a $230,000 federal grant to coordinate the VISTA volunteers and recruit another five people for the program often dubbed the domestic Peace Corps.
There currently are 3,283 VISTA volunteers in 771 community projects around the country.
Vashti Duff, 65, said her sons were horrified when they learned she’d be leaving her Philadelphia home to sleep on a cot in a Catholic mission in Homestead.
But she told them to get used to it, since she’s also considering heading to the Third World with the Peace Corps. She thinks a year in the hurricane zone will be good training while putting her altruism to work.
″People need motivation and I’m hoping to give them that,″ said Duff, a retired federal worker. ″Sometimes life just gets you down so low that you just can’t get up again until someone comes along. I want to be that someone.″
The VISTAs will first work at coordinating larger groups of volunteers for projects in the Homestead area, such as rebuilding migrant labor camps and the Miccosukee Indian reservation in the Everglades.
″We want to make it self-sustaining, so that when we’re gone the volunteer effort can continue without us,″ said Emme Pedinielli, the United Way coordinator for the project. ″We want to create a blueprint that the government can use in future disasters to mobilize volunteers.″
Her ″wish-list″ includes recruiting students from around the country to spend their spring breaks working in south Dade. She’s also hoping to get organizations such as Outward Bound to do their outdoor maneuvers and building under the Florida sun.
After the 10 VISTA volunteers were sworn in Wednesday, they met with members of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of South Florida, who will serve as mentors, helping them get adjusted, watching for signs of stress and depression and making sure they’re not alone on holidays.
VISTA volunteer Rita Schwantes, 23, of Lexington, Ky., has an application in with the Peace Corps and sees her work here as good preparation.
″VISTA seemed like a good way to get some experience that I needed while helping others,″ she said.