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Timothy Noelker

Ragan Dueker

Samuel Hackett

David Wing

Volunteerism and Altruism:
American Ideals that Showcase a National Legacy of Service

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country,” stated the late John F. Kennedy during his inauguration speech in 1961, less than two months before he started the Peace Corps in an effort to encourage American citizens to pay it forward by committing at least two years of their lives to service in an overseas community.

Bill Clinton, several decades later, ushered in the formation of the AmeriCorps, “the domestic Peace Corps” as Timothy Noelker, Webster University alumnus and General Counsel of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the parent of AmeriCorps, referred to it.

Thus, both the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, among other national service programs, represent a magnanimous American tradition of giving back to society and the world in the spirit of gratitude and altruism, recognizing the Biblical principle of “to whom much is given, much shall be required.”

Webster University with its “think globally, act locally” philosophy has a number of alumni who have participated in volunteer programs such as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. They have used their education at Webster to enter the larger society as change agents, equipped with the necessary skills to make an impact in their respective paths of service. Two of them are currently serving in the Peace Corps, while another is an AmeriCorps alumnus.

Noelker was recently appointed by the White House to his leadership role as General Counsel in which he gets to employ his longstanding legal expertise in three different functions, ultimately to further the cause of and to amplify the call to acts of service in America.

Noelker Discusses Background, the Idea of Compulsory Service and AmeriCorps Benefits

When asked how community service has played a pivotal role in his personal development, Noelker responded, “It has made me more aware of the world and more appreciative of what we have and what we can offer. I’m one of those people who has grown more personally. Early on I sort of found my calling; I was probably better suited to settle the administrative work. So I know a lot about nonprofits, government and how to keep everyone safe and legal in the nonprofit world is a big part of my experience.”

Graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in English from Webster in the 1970s, Noelker had a productive career in law while also actively partaking in nonprofit work that eventually led to his current position. He admits that his pro bono experiences have been more enriching for him than they probably have for the people he has served. Believing that service-learning programs (e.g., Peace Corps and AmeriCorps) can fortify America’s democracy in an increasingly globalized world, Noelker said, “The interesting point here, I think, is bringing people together in service. That is one of the things that makes us different from a whole lot of other nations in the world. This is as much a growth opportunity for the people that volunteer and provide the service as the people out in the communities who receive our service. It really does bring us together, and it teaches our people to respect the dignity of those they serve no matter how much they are currently on hard times.”

Not only do AmeriCorps volunteers, in particular, get to build soft and hard skills integral to success in the workforce, but also, following service in the variety of communities they serve within the United States, they receive rewards in the form of education grants to pay for college. Noelker noted, “Over the past few years we have given more than $833 thousand in award payments through Webster University. Student loans can be deferred while graduates serve as volunteers. Corporations and other colleges like Webster often match the grant. All that comes together to make both our volunteers and the country better and stronger.”

A Peace Corps Ukraine Volunteer Acts on Her Conviction of “Helping Thy Neighbor”

Ragan Dueker has always been passionate about volunteerism since early on in life and has carried this altruistic sentiment with her all throughout her global expatriate experiences. She lived in Costa Rica for a period after graduating from Webster in 2010 as a double major in international relations and Spanish. Then she moved to Kosovo following her time in Costa Rica to complete her master’s thesis. Peace Corps then found its way into her next life goal. “It was a strong calling for me in the back of my head,” Dueker said of her motivation to join.

Currently a community development volunteer in Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Dueker works on various projects to build capacity within her community. For example, she co-organized a volunteerism fair with a volunteer colleague for International Volunteer Day this past December to teach local people about civic engagement and community service. Designing and conducting workshops on entrepreneurship and facilitating English clubs for internally displaced people are but some of the other activities that occupy her time.

Peace Corps’ signature motto is “the toughest job you’ll ever love,” and, as such, Ragan’s next challenge as a volunteer is “trying to impart this notion of volunteerism we have in the States over here in Ukraine and trying to get people more motivated and aware of these opportunities.” How can she transfer her zeal for goodwill to the local people around her? “It will take time, but planting the seed is the first step,” she said.

How AmeriCorps Service Led One Alumnus to the Discovery of His Life Work

Samuel Hackett served as a member of AmeriCorps in San Diego for one year and worked with Hispanic at-risk youth, many of whom were involved in gang activity at an alternative high school. It was a chance for him to leave his comfort zone behind and to embrace a challenge that would set him on his current path of professional counseling in which he is currently earning a master’s degree.

“When I was working with the students in AmeriCorps a lot of them had issues they needed to talk about, and I was really empathetic to their backgrounds and upbringings,” Hackett said. “I needed more tools to help them, to empower these students to become self-sufficient and their own best resource.”

Both an eye-opening and humbling experience, Hackett cultivated traits of adaptability, resourcefulness, and compassion while becoming more socially conscious in the process. “I grew exponentially,” he said. Whether it was learning how to live on a tight budget (consisting of food stamps) for 12 months or interacting and partnering with an underserved community of people different from the one he left behind at home in St. Louis, Hackett became privy to the realities of the less fortunate. He acknowledged, “I never knew what privilege was until I went through this experience.”

Dedicating one’s life to a year or two of public service can be a transformative leadership undertaking that impacts the life of the benefactor just as much, if not more than, that of the beneficiary. “If anybody is questioning their path in what they want to do or accomplish in their life, then do a year of service,” Hackett advises. Walk in the shoes of another and grow.

Global MAIR Graduate Thrives on Adventure as Global Citizen in Peace Corps Indonesia

Ambitious about garnering as much intercultural competence and international development experience as he can as a seasoned expatriate, David Wing is a graduate of Webster University’s Master of Arts International Relations (MAIR) program, in which students travel and study at Webster’s global network of campuses. Now serving in a village on an island of Indonesia as an English education volunteer, Wing teaches English at a boarding school in a conservative Muslim community of the country that boasts the largest Islamic population in the world.

While living and working abroad may be challenging in its own right, Peace Corps volunteers have the added responsibility of integrating within their communities both culturally and linguistically with the goal of being more effective in service. Wing made this clear when he said, “It is very difficult to immerse yourself within another community that is not like yours, but it’s also one of the more rewarding experiences definitely.”

Having worked abroad in South America before joining the Peace Corps, Wing sees volunteerism and travel opportunities such as the Peace Corps as essential to the next generation’s need for cross-cultural communication and global awareness, “particularly within the context of the United States because we are so insulated and isolated from the rest of the world,” he pointed out. “It’s very important,” Wing said of our future leaders, “to have that exposure to other parts of the world and at least to have some knowledge that is not just the United States.”

Charles McKinney is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), who served in Macedonia as a TEFL educator from 2015 to 2017. Continuing on the path of his life work has now led him to serve in Rwanda, Africa as a TEFL Lecturer for Peace Corps Response, an offshoot program that places Americans with significant experience/expertise in high-impact, short-term positions worldwide, at the University of Rwanda. A humbly grateful global citizen, Charles looks forward to exploring the African continent, not losing the Macedonian language skills he’s worked hard to build and to publishing his first e-book related to his cosmopolitan adventures around the world. He believes in living your best life now!