MARENGO – Cassie Lawlor, 27, of Marengo has been accepted into the Peace Corps and will spend the next 27 months teaching English to children and improving the well-being of the residents of South Africa.
Lawlor is leaving Tuesday and does not plan to return home until her service is finished.
"The Peace Corps is something I've been interested in for quite a long time, and I finally decided it was a good time in my life to go for it," Lawlor said. "I applied last fall, because the process takes some time, and just finished graduate school this past December."
Lawlor feels strongly that the Peace Corps' mission is to help those who ask for help.
"We just do what the people want us to do; there's no ulterior motive with the Peace Corps," she said. "We just want to genuinely help."
In order to teach third-graders English during her stay in South Africa, Lawlor will need to overcome a language barrier.
"For 10 weeks, I will have intensive language training," Lawlor said. "In South Africa, they speak a lot of different languages, so once I arrive, I will find out which language group I am part of and then get tutoring from there."
She finds it reassuring, however, that there will be a group around her of people who are going through the same language struggles.
"It will be a challenge, but I'm very excited," she added.
Lawlor is the daughter of Patrick and Patricia Lawlor and a 2004 graduate of Marian Central Catholic High School. She earned a bachelor's degree from Augustana College in 2008 and her master's degree in 2012 from Bradley University.
During Lawlor's first three months in South Africa, she will complete technical, language, health and safety training, all while staying with a host family to become immersed in the South African culture.
Lawlor then will continue her two-year service with the Peace Corps.
She believes her education will enhance her experience.
"When I was in grad school, I taught undergraduate classes. Although I'll be teaching at the third-grade level, I still think this will help me," she said. "And my undergraduate education was in liberal arts, which allowed me to learn a wide range of information. This will also help me with my service in the Peace Corps."
Once Lawlor is officially sworn into service and assigned a community, she will work on community-driven development projects.
Lawlor's primary goal is education; however, all Peace Corps members will have a secondary goal. The secondary goal varies and is chosen by the members.
"A common secondary goal in South Africa is gardening, because they struggle with malnutrition. I'm not sure what I will do exactly yet, but I am open to many different things," she said
Lawlor said she is nervous but mostly excited about her service in South Africa.
"I'm a little sad to be leaving my friends and family, but I think that the time will go by so fast and it will be over before I know it," she said. "There are concerns in the back of my mind, like the language and safety, but the Peace Corps has been around for so long, and they are very good at preparing us."
Lawlor will join 352 other Illinois residents serving in the Peace Corps.
"I hope to get a better understanding of people in a completely different part of the world," she said. "I really hope that living in a different culture for an extended time will allow me to bring that culture back home and hopefully have my experience affect the rest of my life and others."