First things first: Moe to pursue Peace Corps before bucks

A December graduate of the University of Tennessee with a degree in finance and international business, Jason Moe has obviously given money a lot of thought.

It’s just not all he thinks about.

The 2002 William Blount High School graduate is putting the corporate world on hold for a while, choosing instead to spend the next 23 months on a mission with the Peace Corps in Nicaragua.

The idea, one that took root after witnessing the devastation wrought by 2005’s Pacific Rim tsunami, is to give something back before seeking personal successes, Moe said.

"It’s seeing how bad off some people have it, he said, "and wanting to do something about it. I wanted to help somebody else before I started doing something for myself."

Moe’s sense of altruism has firm roots. North Dakota’s Red River poured from its banks 10 years ago, the ensuing flood swamping more than 40,000 homes in and around Fargo, including the one owned by the Lyle and Dawn Moe.
The damage was widespread, Dawn said. When the river burst its banks again two years later, enough was enough.

"Two years later when the river started going up, we said, ‘Nah, we’re out of here,’" Dawn said.

There was a hidden plus in it all, Jason said, especially if you were 12.

"On the one hand, you’re worried about your house," he said. "On the other hand, you’re like, ‘I don’t have to go back to school for how long?’"

It’s in her brother’s nature to make light of tough times, Leanne Moe said, but the 1995 flood shaped Jason in many ways. Watching volunteers help the Fargo community get back on its feet influenced her brother, she said. It also instilled a sense of adventure.

When Jason announced a year ago he would enter the Peace Corps after graduation, Leanne said she wasn’t surprised.
"This is a Jason thing," she said. "He’s an adventurer.

"It came down to, I think, he just wants to help."

Michelle Fritz, a 2001 William Blount graduate and Jason’s girlfriend, said it’s exactly that.

"That impressed me so much," she said. "He’s going to help out in a small way, but in a big way, too. I’m really excited for him and I think it’s a great opportunity."

Jason will teach English as a second language to high school students in a rural area outside the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. He’ll live with a host family, one prohibited from conversing with him in English.

"They’re not allowed to speak to me in English the entire time I’m there," Jason said.

The brainchild of President John F. Kennedy, the Peace Corps lists as its mission: helping interested countries meet their need for trained men and women; helping promote a better understanding of Americans to the people served; help promote a better understanding of others on the part of Americans.

Jason has a head start on the last one.

A vacation to Thailand was already in motion when a tsunami took the lives of more than 200,000 people two years ago. While not in an affected area, Jason said he backpacked into some of the more devastated regions to see the destruction firsthand.

Lyle and Dawn said they were at first apprehensive about their son’s trip to the Far East, considering the state of world affairs. They needn’t have worried, Jason said. Contrary to prevailing wisdom, anti-Americanism isn’t as rampant as many are led to believe.

"Everyone loves Americans over there," he said. "It’s nothing like what the media says.

"They’re not too crazy about Europeans."

The Peace Corps originally billeted Jason for the Republic of Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific. Located 1,000 east of Australia, it was a bit too remote.

"I declined that," Jason said.

Dawn was glad he did. She’s at ease with her son’s adventurous nature. Jason backpacked across Europe only last summer. The thought of having him half a world away for two-plus years, though, was a touch too much.

In Nicaragua, "I can get my hands on that kid," she said.

Brackins Blues Club, where Jason works as a bartender, threw Moe a farewell party last weekend. While staged on a Sunday, a night when the club is normally closed, a large gathering filled the Maryville nightspot to wish Moe well.

"He’s a great kid from a wonderful family," Therese Cleary said, "right here in our own neighborhood. There aren’t many kids like him in the world any more. That’s a tribute to the parents who raised him."

Greg Beaty, who accompanied Cleary to the sendoff, echoed the sentiment.

"He’s a highly intelligent young man beyond his years, by far," Beaty said. "I wish I was related to him."

Lyle Moe said he’s concerned for his son but understands fully why he’s going.

"He’s always done his own thing," he said. "He’s a great kid."

They’ll worry, Leanne Moe said.

"Yeah, but I worry about when someone doesn’t look both ways crossing the street," she said. "I just want him to make sure he’s careful."

Honalee Johnson, a manager at Sullivan’s in Maryville, where Jason works when not on the clock at Brackins, said she admires Jason’s determination to "have at life."

"He’s so down to earth and willing to help others," she said.

In Moe, the Peace Corps and Nicaragua is getting more than it bargained for, Brandy Cable said.

"I’m very proud of him," she said, "and I really think he’ll touch and change a lot of people’s lives in ways they never imagined."

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