Dimond Resident Joins the Peace Corps in Fiji

by Nathan Hale Sargent

Dimond resident Dennis Barr leaves May 18 to begin a two-year assignment with the Peace Corps in Fiji. Photo courtesy Nathan Hale Sargent.

When Dennis Barr settled in the Dimond District a few years ago, he didn't know the decision would take him more than 5,000 miles across the Pacific.

"My landlord in Dimond was a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1970s in Micronesia," Dennis explains. Seeing his landlord's photos and hearing stories of his experience inspired Dennis to become a Peace Corps volunteer himself.

Now, at age 63, Dennis is packing his bags for Fiji, where he has been selected by the Peace Corps to serve as a business advisor. He departs May 18 to begin a 27-month assignment in the Pacific island nation. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Dennis will live at the grassroots level in Fiji, helping a local community with business and environmental projects. He will spend his first three months of service in training, living with a host family and studying the local language and culture. After training, he will begin a two-year assignment, living in the style of the people in his new community.'

Dennis has lived abroad before. After retiring from a career in telecommunications, he bought a boat and left the Bay Area to sail around Latin America for nearly six years. Peace Corps service will combine his love for adventure with an equal passion for serving others.'

"I've always done some form of volunteering," he says, including 15 years on the board of a San Francisco YMCA and weekly shifts at the Chabot Space & Science Center.

"I'll miss tamales," Dennis says of Oakland. "I'll miss Chabot. But I'll come back."

Peace Corps service has no upper age limit, and Dennis joins a growing number of volunteers serving mid-career and in retirement. Of nearly 7,700 Peace Corps volunteers now working in 76 countries, 7 percent are over age 50.

The goals of the Peace Corps are to help other countries meet their need for trained men and women; to increase understanding of America around the world; and to increase understanding of other countries here at home. The Peace Corps is growing in advance of its 50th anniversary in 2011, with need for additional volunteers in the areas of education, health, business, agriculture, the environment, and youth development.

"Whether you're 63 or 85, you can only watch so much daytime television," Dennis says. "You've got to do something with your talents."

Peace Corps will host an information session at the Laurel Book Store on Wednesday, June 9, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. titled "The Many Faces of Peace Corps: Sharing the Diversity of America with the World." For more information, visit www.peacecorps.gov or call 452-8444.

The author, a resident of the Laurel neighborhood, is public affairs specialist for the Peace Corps in Northern California.'