Tuesday marked the 50th anniversary the global service initiative was first introduced into Congress. To commemorate, returned volunteers from around the world were encouraged to host global house parties, which would bring together returned volunteers, future volunteers and residents from other cultures.
"We wanted to create a way for people to celebrate no matter where they're living in the world, to reconnect with volunteers, friends and meet new people in the Peace Corps community," said Molly Mattessich, manager of online initiatives for the National Peace Corps Association, a nonprofit, and who has organized the house parties. "There are over 700 parties around the world from Afghanistan to London to Marietta, Georgia."
Wright's party in Marietta was just what the Peace Corps encouraged. Scattering old Corps photos in front of him, Roy Conradi, 70, of Marietta, joyfully recalled his experience as a volunteer in Ethiopia from 1964 to 1966. Conradi said he was one of the first volunteers to ever join the Peace Corps, as a 23-year-old fresh out of college at the University of Minnesota. Conradi, a lifelong photojournalist, taught mechanical writing and his home - shared with a handful of other young volunteers - was "just around the corner" from Emperor Haile Selassie I, also known as "The Lion of Judah." Conradi said he often used his photography skills to snap photos of the infamous leader, and he also met the late Sargent Shriver, whom most know as the face of the Peace Corps.
Standing beside Conradi, smiling and eagerly taking in every story and bit of advice, were Tish and Marion Mobley of Marietta. The two, 56 and 60 respectively, are only a month away from embarking on their own Peace Corps mission to Botswana after deciding they wanted to experience something more meaningful in their lives. They said they sold their house and car, and they are cutting down their belongings to 80 pounds for the three-year trip. Tish Mobley, a nurse practitioner, will be working with those affected by the AIDS virus. And she will have her hands full because 25 percent of the population is infected with the disease, she said. Marion Mobley will bring his business knowledge to the African country where he will serve as a district community liaison.
Wright is a returned volunteer after serving in Cameroon from 1991 to 1993. Like Conradi, she emerged from college wanting to experience another culture and serve those in need, so she joined the Peace Corps. At 23, she was sent to Cameroon for three years to work as a hospital volunteer. Her experience working in health care served her well, as she now works as a public health advisor for the Center for Disease Control, which recently sent her to Haiti to help with the cholera epidemic.
Other guests included Suzanne Marks, who also works for the CDC and served in the Peace Corps in Togo from 1983 to 1985; Wright's brother, Cliff Wright, who lived in Germany for 12 years and came back to the U.S. in 2002; Mireille Kalou, from the Ivory Coast, who is also a CDC employee and traveled to Haiti with Wright; Wright's neighbor, Sovane Tonnellier, originally from France; Tonnellier's young daughter and Wright's two boys, Colin, 9 and Ethan, 10. Most did not know each other before the party, but said they became aware of the party in Marietta online and decided to come to share experiences only they could share.
"When they told me I would be going to Ethiopia, I said, 'Where is it?'" Conradi said, with a laugh. "It ended up being the best thing that's ever happened to me. It's an experience you just can't buy, and was definitely the foundation of my career. I think everyone should perform some sort of service period because it would change lives. It even changed mine."
According to the Peace Corps website, those with specialized skills who are flexible, adaptable, patient, self-reliant, positive, resourceful, responsible, can speak more than one language and have work and volunteer experience are encouraged to apply. For more information on the Peace Corps and how to get involved, visit www.peacecorps.gov.