Travels lead to volunteerism

February 27, 2003 12:00 am

By SCOTT PESZNECKER

Ron and Valerie Newman are like many retired foothills residents.

They own a second home — a summer house in Southern California — and travel frequently, often out of the country.

Where the Newmans differ is that they found a way to turn their vacations into volunteerism.

Through an international organization called Global Volunteers, the Copperopolis couple journeyed to the Greek island of Crete in November to teach English for two weeks.

They worked with faculty and students at the University of Crete campus at Rethymno, a picturesque harbor city that overlooks ancient ruins.

The Newmans were part of a 22-member volunteer team with Americans from several states.

Ron, 55, and Valerie, 56, didn't teach in a classroom setting. They didn't refer to textbooks or dictionaries.

"It was purely conversational," said Ron, who is retired from marketing in Southern California.

"You teach them no grammar. You just sit around and shoot the breeze with them."

The Newmans, who own a winter home at Saddle Creek, are avid travelers. They have seen the Great Wall of China and the Great Coral Reef of Australia. They've ventured on safaris in Kenya and Tanzania, stayed in Indonesia and have visited most European countries.

But none of that, they said, can rival their work with Global Volunteers.

"If you've traveled a lot, and we have, this offers the most unique opportunity to get to know people," said Valerie, a high school teacher in Southern California for 35 years. "Despite what some people think, Americans are very welcome."

And the couple found Crete, compared with other places they have been, to be one-of-a-kind.

"I loved the sounds of the sheep and goats with the bells around their necks," Valerie said. "To go to sleep with those sounds around you is just wonderful."