By Celine Klosterman
Andrew Hanson had served short-term stints for patrons of homeless shelters and soup kitchens. But the recent Creighton University graduate sought something more.
“I wanted to do something with people rather than for them,” he said. “I wanted to be in solidarity with them.”
So Hanson, whose home parish is St. Patrick in Ottumwa, will spend at least two years volunteering with youths as a Peace Corps volunteer after leaving for the Dominican Republic Aug. 21. After a month of language and cultural training and two months of shadowing other volunteers, he’ll be stationed in his own community, living beside those he serves.
It’s the potential unity with those people that drew him to the Peace Corps. In the federal program, “Instead of doing something for the community and then leaving, you arrive in the community and become part of it … You can say, ‘I think we need a new health center,’ instead of going in and saying, ‘I’m going to build you a health center.’”
Hanson, who double-majored in psychology and organizational communication, reached that perspective after volunteering as a counselor for people with AIDS in Nebraska and with children in the Boys and Girls Club of Omaha. Working closely with those people over time helped him see things from their view, and made him feel like one of them, he said.
“I really loved it. It was great for me to do that kind of service.”
Such volunteer opportunities fulfilled him more than internships he’d completed had. So as graduation approached, he started looking into long-term service programs.
Hanson considered the Jesuit Volunteer Corps because at Creighton, a Jesuit school, he’d “fallen in love” with the order’s philosophy and dedication to social justice. But he said the process of being interviewed and invited to join the Peace Corps went so quickly, he hardly had opportunity to fully research the Jesuit corps and other volunteer options.
He hopes he’ll still be able to model Catholic values in the government program, though.
“My faith is going to play a huge role in this … Although I can’t preach, by living my faith and living the values I’ve been taught, I can be a role model for the youths” who Peace Corps volunteers work with, many of whom come from troubled backgrounds, Hanson said.
He thinks experience he’s had in foreign countries will prove valuable, too. He lived in Brazil, where his parents taught at an American school, until moving to the United States when he was 9 years old. Brazilian culture and food bears several similarities to that of the Dominican Republic, and while Brazil’s official language is Portuguese, he’s learned some Spanish — which will give him a head start as he works toward fluency in the Caribbean country’s language.
Having lived in more than one culture also whet Hanson’s appetite for international travel in the first place. He thinks it also made him a stronger candidate for the Peace Corps.
“He’s a wonderfully balanced young man,” said Father Dick Hauser. He’s a theology professor at Creighton and advisor of Phi Kappa Psi, a fraternity Hanson was president of his senior year. Fr. Hauser noted the young adult also sung in the choir for a Sunday night Mass and organized retreats, and had once taken part in soccer. But “in whatever he does, he wants to serve God. His deepest motivation is to make a difference for the human family. I think the Peace Corps makes good sense for him… He’s what we hope all our young Catholic students will turn out to be.”
Anna Hanson, Andrew’s mother, said that though his move to the Dominican Republic won’t be easy for her, she’s glad he has plans for the next 27 months in the current job market.
“I believe that if you give your family strong roots, the branches go very wide,” said Anna, director of religious education for the Ottumwa parishes. She and her husband, Steve, have two children living in Europe, three in Brazil and one in Las Vegas. “Because of our faith we do trust that things will work out, and if they don’t, that the Lord will show the way they should go.”
Hanson isn’t sure where he’ll go post-Peace Corps, though he plans to use what he learns in the next two years to guide his path. But one thing’s for sure. “I’m looking for a career in service to others,” he says, citing a Jesuit value: “Being someone for and with others.”