Mark Pomilio Jr. of Ahwatukee is about to walk in the steps of an organization that President Kennedy started 57 years ago.
He has joined the Peace Corps and, in less than a week, will be heading off to Paraguay for at least two years – possibly longer if he decides to stay on with the nation’s preeminent global service organization.
The Chandler Preparatory Academy grad, who also went to Altadena Middle School, plans to put the economy and industry degree he earned last December from the University of Arizona to good use by helping people start up or improve their businesses as an economic development consultant.
Joining the Peace Corps has been an ambition for some time.
“I had a professor who had been in the Peace Corps in Brazil,” he said, noting that he has wanted to explore South America for some time, especially since he minored in Spanish at U of A.
Thanks to a Peace Corps recruiter’s office on campus as well as a Corp job fair of sorts, he had the chance to learn more about the organization – and liked what he saw.
But the Corps doesn’t take just anyone. Once he set his sights on joining, the real work began.
“It’s very competitive,” said the 22-year-old son of Mark and Carole Pomilio, noting the application process took more than six months and included things like legal background checks and medical exams to ensure he was capable and qualified to do the job.
“It was great having a Peace Corps office on campus,” he added, saying the representative there helped him focus his essays, partly to prove his qualifications for going to one of the two countries to which he wanted to go – Paraguay or the Dominican Republic.
Finally, he got the word. He was accepted last September.
Since graduation, Pomilio has been spending most of the last two months getting ready for Paraguay, boning up on his Spanish as well as a language spoken in some villages there.
Next week, he will take off for Paraguay for an 11-week training course at a location outside the Paraguayan capital, learning more about the country’s culture – “which is great” - as well as the more technical aspects of his job.
He’s prepared to some extent as the result of the six-week internship he spent in Honduras last summer, working to set up a public or private waste management program.
“Working there was kind of a test run,” Pomilio said
He also worked on a proposal for a project of his own that would show recent high school grads there the difference between “being an entrepreneur and being an employee.”
His supervisors liked his proposal and his demonstration of a protype presentation on the subject, so he began giving it in villages around the country.
“I was a very positive experience and was very helpful for the students and for me,” he said. “It was a great learning experience and I think the students got a lot out of it too.”
In some ways, he’ll be teaching in Paraguay too, but on a different level.
He’ll be assigned a host family and one of his responsibilities will be teaching them how to start a business or, if they have one, how to improve it.
His education in what he called “an over-arching business degree” has grounded him not only in economic development strategies but in business basics as well.
But whether it is with his host family or villagers, his first task will be developing their trust.
“Being an outsider it will be difficult to build trust, but once I go, I can grow relationships and and then use my skills,” he said.
He said he knows Paraguay has a different social-business culture than America but his time at Chandler Prep has prepared him for that.
“It’s more formal. They believe your appearance reflects your demeanor and character and so people are more dressed up there,” he explained. “But in high school I had to wear a uniform and always be dressed nice. I’ll have no problem in a country that puts a big emphasis on how you carry yourself.”
Though he anticipates he’ll be homesick a bit, he is comforted by the fact that his venture has the full support of his parents as well as his younger brother and older sister.
“They are very accepting of it, especially my older sister,” he said. She’s been telling all her friends and coworkers how happy she is for me.”