RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia isn't just for lovers. It's for volunteers, too.
The state _ with 303 current participants _ ranks ninth among the nation in the total number of people who volunteer to serve with the Peace Corps, the program established by President John F. Kennedy to promote service and understanding around the world said Wednesday.
Virginia has consistently ranked in the Peace Corps' top volunteer-producing states, ranking 7th last year, 19th in 2010 and 5th in 2009. No other states from the mid-Atlantic region placed on the top states list in 2011. Since its founding in 1961, more than 7,115 Peace Corps volunteers from Virginia have served in 139 countries on projects relating to agriculture, community economic development, education, environment, health and youth development.
"Peace Corps volunteers from Virginia are truly dedicated to making a difference in the lives of people worldwide and continue to serve our nation at high rates," Carrie Hessler-Radelet, the program's acting director and a Virginia resident, said in a statement.
Among this year's Virginia volunteers is 29-year-old Sandra Rose Wildermuth of Virginia Beach, Va., an Old Dominion University graduate who has been living and working in Paraguay since 2011. Wildermuth is working to renovate the local youth center, which serves as a soup kitchen and space for educational resources and counseling. The center provides the children with basic necessities that they may not receive in the home, such as meals, educational support, instruction in basic hygiene practices, medical attention and counseling.
"It's been a positive experience," Wildermuth said. "It hasn't always been easy, but I have enjoyed it."
She suggested that anyone interested in participating in the Peace Corps to be very flexible, open-minded and ready to adjust during volunteer service in other countries.
More than 8,000 Peace Corps volunteers are currently working with communities in 76 host countries, officials said. Peace Corps service is a 27-month service commitment. Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age.
The program provides a unique opportunity to live and work to improve the lives of people worldwide, as well as learn new skills, regional office manager Chris Gilson said in a statement. His office serves Delaware, Washington, D.C., Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
Michael Felberbaum can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/MLFelberbaum .
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)
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