A volunteer's journey of a lifetime - April Avison

In June 2002, I interviewed Adam McGarity about the journey on which he was about to embark – a two-year stint in Romania with the Peace Corps.

I agreed to accept columns from him that would be published in the newspaper. Every couple of months I got a column in my e-mail that would tell of his wild experiences – witnessing a pig-slaying among them.

I've seen him once since then – he was allowed a brief visit home a few months ago, and stopped by to drop off a column. At the time, his jaw was wired shut because he'd been injured while attempting to break up a bar fight.

In June he will come home, and he is no doubt a drastically different person than the young man I spoke with two years ago.

"I've heard that the volunteers get more out of it than the people they're helping," he told me in 2002. "I'm going there for selfish reasons, and I'll be helping people as well."

There is no doubt that Adam has grown through this experience, and no doubt that he has strengthened the lives of many others through his teaching and coaching and friendships in Romania. Adam's parents, Nan and John McGarity, have a lot to be proud of. People like Adam inspire many others, often without even knowing it. They make us think that if they can do something as crazy as leaving behind their family and their life and their bank account for two years and do something to build our country's relationship with other countries, we can do it, too.

Over the past two years, I've looked forward to receiving Adam's columns. Through his writing I've watched him change and grow. I remember him telling me two years ago that his first choice for his Peace Corps location was China, but he had to be flexible and optimistic when told he would instead be going to Romania. After the SARS outbreak swept through China, his mother reminded me of that twist of fate that seemed like a disappointment at the time and turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

According to www. peacecorps. gov, since 1960, more than 170,000 Peace Corps volunteers have been invited by 136 host countries to work on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation. That's pretty amazing, and it not only does a service in the foreign country, it brings back a volunteer whose life is enriched.

"Potential travelers, adventurers and volunteers have my full encouragement to see the world, leave a mark, and be changed in the processs. We truly live in a world of all possibilities," Adam wrote in his final column. I think that's good advice. And although it may not be feasible for all of us to join the Peace Corps, we can all make our mark in some way, big or small, and contribute something that makes the world a better place, not just for Americans but for people all over the world.

April Avison is the city editor of the Daily Herald. Her column appears on Mondays. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or via e-mail at aavison@henryherald.com.