It was time for a change and Steve Lawrence and Irene Ledesma did it in a big way. The couple lived in Stapleton for five years prior to April 2013 when they sold their home and all their belongings to start a whole new life. The new life has included a six-week world tour, and now, moving to Jamaica as Peace Corps volunteers.
About eight years ago, Steve and Irene began thinking about joining the Peace Corps. Steve says that a couple years ago they realized if we don’t do this now, we probably won’t. It seemed like a good time to at least consider it.”
In August 2012, they submitted applications and went through interviews in December 2012. “Both of us have been involved in some kind of community service or volunteer or nonprofit for decades,” says Steve, 68. He served on the board of directors as president of Stapleton United Neighbors and ran for Denver City Council in 2011.
Irene, 55, adds, “It’s passion. It’s a desire to make a change, even though it’s making a change one person at a time. That’s my commitment in life. I’ve always wanted to be in the Peace Corps. And, I have a partner that wants to do the exact same thing.”
Knowing they would be living in another country, Steve and Irene decided to divest themselves of the worldly goods they had collected over the years. They employed an estate sale company, which, as Steve says, is more often used to empty a person’s home after they die.
“We researched and hired an estate sale company. We moved out of our house, and they took three to four weeks and sold most of our furniture, artwork, dishes and boxes of cereal in the pantry. We left with three chairs, two computers, a bed and 30 boxes that we’ve stored.” They moved to an apartment on the Anschutz campus.
“Instead of furniture, we have Japanese screens around 30 boxes,” Steve says. “It’ll go into storage. We’re going to move everything into storage in California where we have kids.”
A percentage of their estate sale went to a nonprofit organization, Environmental Learning for Kids, or www.ElkKids.org. The items that didn’t sell went to Goodwill Industries.
“One thing we learned about the Peace Corps is to be flexible,” Steve said. “We planned the (world) trip, and just before we left, we were finally told we had made the next step.”
“It was pretty hysterical trying to finish all the last-minute details (for the Peace Corps) before we went on vacation,” Irene said. They had to submit applications for government passports to work in Jamaica and they had to be fingerprinted for police background checks.
During their six-week world tour, Steve and Irene visited Italy (including Rome, Venice and Florence), Prague, Istanbul, Cambodia and Hong Kong. They returned to their apartment on the Anschutz Medical Campus for a couple of months and will soon head off to Jamaica to start training for their positions as English teachers.
Both Irene and Steve have some experience as teachers. Irene has volunteered with Marianne Bash’s Each One Teach One program at Greenwood Elementary School in Montbello. She says Bash’s work with students and parents who speak English as a second language inspired her to teach in the Peace Corps. Steve has been teaching Korean government officials who enter the School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado.
Starting in March Steve and Irene will have three months of training in Jamaica, and then 24 months of service there. During the application process, they submitted their list of preferred countries—along with their preference for a “warm” country.
Peace Corps posts are volunteer positions with stipends for rent, food and transportation. They are allowed to use only public transportation.
“It really has to do with wanting to help someone else—not to be the expert, but to establish a relationship in the community,” Steve explained.
Steve and Irene want to keep in touch with all their old friends. They will be posting photos on their blog, www.SteveandIrene.us.
“You can follow us, get emails when we send them, or post comments and pictures for us. That’s how we’re going to stay in touch with our friends,” Steve said.
Where Steve and Irene will live upon their return from Jamaica remains up in the air. They could sign on with the Peace Corps to serve somewhere else, or they could wind up with their children in California, Steve said.
“We have four boys in their 30s who are grown and married,” he said. “They’re not surprised we’re doing this because they know us. They’re looking forward to visiting us after we’ve been there a year. At least one of them said he was proud of us.”