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Careers

Take a Service Sabbatical

Would you trade your job for volunteer work?

Susan Sumner and Paul Reinhart are seriously downsizing their lives -- donating many of their belongings to charity, locking up their Mountain View, Cal., home and putting their finances on autopilot. The husband-and-wife duo will leave in August for a 27-month stay in Kazakhstan, just south of the Russian border, as Peace Corps volunteers.

Public-service programs such as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps have seen a huge increase in applicants -- perhaps because the recession has stirred a shift in priorities and inspired a little soul-searching. President Obama's call to service may also be a factor. Around the time of his inauguration, online applications for the Peace Corps surged 175%.

Sumner, 48, and Reinhart, 49, were fortunate to have the means to retire from their Silicon Valley careers at a relatively early age, leaving 60-hour workweeks behind. As frequent travelers who are interested in other cultures, they crave cultural immersion and an opportunity to give back. Sumner will serve as a business-development volunteer and Reinhart as an NGO (nongovernmental organization) development volunteer.

The Peace Corps will pay them just enough for food and lodging at the local standard of living. "We have a skewed view of the world," Reinhart says. "We can get by with a lot less."

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To prepare for their sabbatical, they've frozen their credit lines, asked family members to care for their home and pets, and set up automatic bill-payment accounts.

Sumner and Reinhart are 20 years older than the typical Peace Corps volunteer. That's another trend -- over the past year, the organization has seen a 40% rise in applications from Americans age 50 and older.

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