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Utahns hail Clinton fight to expand Peace Corps

Jenny Kirk of Salt Lake City thinks President Clinton's plan to ask for an extra $48 million to expand the Peace Corps is a great idea.

Kirk, currently administrative coordinator for Utahns Against Hunger, is a returned Peace Corps volunteer who served in the Czech Republic in 1991-93."I think it's terrific and it shows that the president finds the Peace Corps important," Kirk said.

Kirk taught English in the Czech Republic to professors who needed to quickly learn the language to survive professionally. She also taught executives from a large, state-run mining operation that was being privatized. "They needed English to compete internationally. You can't sell anything anywhere in Europe without being able to speak English," she said.

If the funding increase is approved, Kirk anticipates it will have an effect on Utah by increasing volunteers from here.

"Utah has an excellent pool for drawing Peace Corps volunteers. It's got an educated populace that is well-traveled, and the number of volunteers coming from Utah has increased. In our Peace Corps Alumni Group, we have about 150 paid members now. We've also got 400 to 500 on our mailing list."

Clinton wants to boost the agency's current budget of $219 million to increase the number of volunteers to 10,000 by the year 2000.

This would essentially double the number of Peace Corps volunteers since there are 6,500 of them currently working in 85 countries.

There are 38 volunteers from Utah in the Peace Corps. Nearly 600 Utahns have served in the Peace Corps since its inception in 1961.

"This is a fantastic opportunity for the Peace Corps," said Jeff Martin, public affairs specialist for the agency. "We have bipartisan support in Congress. We have six former Peace Corps volunteers serving in Congress.

"This also shows how popular the Peace Corps has become. We've gone from a cliche - `The Peace Corps, wasn't that in the '60s?' - to getting 150,000 requests for information last year. That was a 40 percent increase since 1994."

Additionally, Martin said the number of volunteers taking part in the program was the highest it has been in 20 years.

Why is that?

"We're getting the word out," Martin said.

Also, the "me decade" of the 1980s is long over and people's views about voluntarism and social service are changing, he said.

"The idealism is back, not just with the Peace Corps but across the board. Voluntarism is up again," he said.

Most Peace Corps participants continue to do some kind of volunteer work once they return, Kirk said.

"The Peace Corps is not just a thing you do. It's a mindset, a belief that it is possible to change the world," Kirk said. "It has been the pivotal point in my life. . . . When you come back, you're an entirely different person."

For information about the Peace Corps, call 1-800-424-8580. For information about the alumni association, call Leslie Abplanalp at 486-3042.