There’s a “force” headed to the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent, but, unlike the hurricane season that will arrive about the same time, this force is intent on making her mark by serving.
Ann Crytser, marketing director at Blount Memorial Hospital, retires on Aug. 15. On Aug. 25, she begins her new career as a Peace Corps volunteer.
“There’s a lot to do,” said Crytser, 62. “I start training in Miami, and, by mid-October, I’ll be on the job,” she said.
Crytser will be stationed in St. Vincent, which is close to Barbados. “I’ll be there in time for hurricane season,” she said.
Her position with the Peace Corps will be in community development, she said. ‘We’ll work with schools and community organizations and other institutions. It’s very much a facilitating, supporting role.”
The move to work as a Peace Corps volunteer was a decision decades in the making.
“It’s something that has been in the back of my mind for decades. I had been putting a lot of thought into what I wanted to do in my post-retirement years. Knowing I had more years behind me than ahead of me, it was important to me to get my arms around something I thought would be very meaningful to me. I wanted to have the opportunity to be useful to others,” she said.
The Peace Corps wasn’t totally unknown to Crytser, who has always traveled and spent time living outside the U.S. at various times during her life.
“I had been aware of the Peace Corps, and I was already very impressed with those individuals,” she said.
Crytser said she had a sorority sister who served in the Peace Corps in Guatemala after college and returned to the Peace Corps years later to lead the organization. Knowing her friend had made that commitment influenced Crytser’s attitude about the Peace Corps.
“It certainly affected my decision,” she said. “I remembered her frequently over the years, particularly when I met other people from the Peace Corps.”
Crytser said she grew up when the Peace Corps was just beginning. She ran into Peace Corps volunteers whenever she traveled abroad and always wondered what it would be like to be one of them.
“I was vacationing with friends in Italy recently, and I said, ‘I’m thinking of applying to the Peace Corps. That was early August, 2007,” Crytser said.
Later that month, she visited the Peace Corps website. The website has a section for seniors.
“It’s interesting to note many of the ‘seniors’ were volunteers out of college when they were young, and, now that they’re retired, they’re choosing to go back into the field and go back to the same country they were in previously,” she said.
Crytser said she researched it more and asked some questions. “Then they responded, and said I was eligible,” she said.
What followed was a long application process and more than half a year of dental and medical clearances for the retiring Blount Memorial marketing director. “It took close to eight months,” she said.
Crytser believes there will be similarities between the job she is leaving and the one she is beginning.
“The hospital is very mission-driven for the health and welfare of the community,” she said. “In the Peace Corps, I wasn’t in the interview 5 minutes before they were talking about their mission.”
Family considerations made the decision a thoughtful one. Crytser has a son and two granddaughters, and they were in her thoughts as she thought about this move.
“That was the big decision,” she said, “the hardest part. I also have two brothers and their families. They have all been extremely supportive. If they hadn’t, I probably wouldn’t be on my way,” she said. “The Peace Corps encourages families and friends to visit in the field, and so they’re all hoping to visit. That will be great, and they can share my experience.”
Crytser said she did not specify any geographic location when she applied.
“You have opportunities to declare if you prefer a warm or cold climate, or the mountains. I wanted to leave all those options totally open. I’ve lived a total of 16 years of my life outside the U.S. before coming to Blount Memorial. There’s something fascinating about each place, so I had an open mind.”
The appointment to St. Vincent pleased her. “I like the proximity. It’s easier for my family to visit, and I really do like warm weather.”
Crytser said she was notified in May that she had been accepted and was given her assignment.
“The next step is a two-day orientation in Miami at the end of August. There are other volunteers going at the same time, although we’ll be going to several different islands. We’ll be on St. Lucia for several days, and then to St. Vincent,” she said. “Evidentially, during the training period I’ll be living with a local family. That will be very special and really integrate me into the community.”
The Peace Corps commitment is for 27 months.
“I do accrue vacation, two days a month, but you are not brought home (at their expense). You can use vacation as you want, but it is on your own dime.”
Crytser said how much she’ll be paid is an unknown until later in the training.
“I will receive a stipend. They furnish housing designed to enable me to live on par with the local economy. I don’t know what the stipend is at this point. That’s why it’s very much a leap of faith,” she said. “But it will be sufficient. It’s important you integrate into community.”
Crytser said integrating into the community is critical because the overriding mission of the Peace Corps volunteers is promoting world peace and friendship.
“Every Peace Corps assignment is at the invitation of the country. The U.S. doesn’t send Peace Corps volunteers where they’ve not been invited. The goal is that we are sending people of all ages into these areas with specific skills the country feels they can use,” she said.
Those skills usually center on teaching, health education, community development, the environment, business development and technology.
“There are an array of skills they’re looking for. The idea is that we take these skills that can be useful and, in exchange for our work, we learn about the people in these countries all over the world, and, it is hoped, they’ll learn about America and Americans,” Crytser said. “We bring knowledge and expertise and things we’ve learned at home, and we’re able to share what we learned after we come home.”