Assistant Managing Editor
EAST LONGMEADOW Like many teens in high school, Brendan Duprey wasn't quite sure what the future held for him. His grades weren't particularly exceptional and on the days he did go to school, paying attention was a task of its own. Though he knew he had an interest in giving back to the community, nailing down exactly how he planned to do that wasn't high on his list of priorities.
Even now as he approaches his second year in Bulgaria with the Peace Corps, his journey sounds like the ideal ending to an after school special. His mother, Cindy, wants it to be a reminder to adolescents that you can do anything with your life, even if you bloom later than others around you.
"During high school I was not the greatest student and did not know what I could do to change my life even though it was something that I wanted to do throughout high school," Duprey explained. "When graduating from high school my GPA was very poor due to skipping school frequently and not paying attention in class."
Cindy said she refused to give up on him. She said her husband Paul also encouraged Duprey and his brother Jeffrey.
"He definitely had a lot of encouragement with the kids, too. He always tried to reason and talk with them. He had long talks with both sons," she said.
Cindy and Paul also got Duprey involved in a university ambassador program that did not rely on his grades, participated in family hiking trips and encouraged Duprey to continue his ongoing volunteer work at the Forest Park Zoo. She said a little spirituality goes a long way, too.
"I advise to pray. If it wasn't for that I would have gone insane. When you want the best for your kid and they are not doing it, it upsets you," Cindy recalled.
However, Duprey stuck it out at East Longmeadow High School and continued on to Springfield Technical Community College (STCC) where he majored in general studies.
"During this time I excelled at history and law. Furthermore, I began to become very active in hiking, outdoor activities and jogging," Duprey said. "The combination of sports and good grades boosted my self-esteem and gave me the confidence that I could succeed."
At 19 he was accepted into his first internship at the New England Board of Higher Education Environmental Internship program and went to work as a computer programmer for New Hampshire's Department of Environmental Services Air Resources Division.
"I worked not only on computer programming, but also developed a national survey for the EPA/ DES nationwide on excavation off road equipment and helped with the vapor recovery program. This internship put me on the environmental policy path. I continued working in the environmental field for the following four summers everywhere from Wyoming to Alaska," Duprey said.
After graduating with honors and winning the Alumni Scholarship award at STCC, Duprey was accepted into UMass Amherst where he majored in natural resource management and pre-law, and graduated with the Outstanding Senior Award.
But coming from a military family, helping others was engrained in him and the urge to contribute to society gnawed at him. His father, Paul, is a Vietnam Veteran who served in the United States Army and his brother Jeffrey is currently a soldier in the Army.
"I really feel that as human beings it is important to be passionate about the well being of others and to help your fellow man. I also wanted to serve my country at a time when peace and understanding of our common existence as human beings was needed more than ever," Duprey shared. "I could not think of a better way to serve my country than to join the Peace Corps; and so I did. Also it was difficult for me to decide whether to join the Peace Corps or to go to graduate school. After some research, I found that the Peace Corps offers a Masters International Program. This is a joint program between the PC and various graduate schools.
"Once I saw that this program was available, I immediately decided to look for graduate schools that are affiliated with the PC and that offered a masters degree in Science. I ended up choosing Bard College because it offered the Masters International Program with a Masters Degree in Environmental Science. I completed my first year of classes in May of 2006 and the first week of August I was in Bulgaria."
Based on Duprey's qualifications and commitments, the Peace Corps opted for him to work in the Community Organization and Development sector. He said he chose Eastern Europe because he knew that he would be able to work on interesting issues such as the European Union system and European Union Integration. Duprey said the environment and tourism are interconnected so he has the flexibility to work on both sides.
"My entire mission is not just environmental, but it does have an environmental focus due to the requirements of my graduate program. I will write my thesis here which will focus on an environmental issue. I have not actually decided what I will focus on, but now I am very interested in NATURA 2000 which is an EU law that creates a network or protected areas in every EU country based on the diversity each country contains. Bulgaria must create these protected sites and my research will most likely focus on the sites protected and if the sites selected are efficient to protect the nation's biodiversity."
Duprey is stationed in Bulgaria until October 2008. The country, which borders Romania, Macedonia, Greece and Turkey, officially became a member of the European Union in January 2007. Duprey said as a union member, Bulgaria will be entitled to several development programs such as PHARE, where EU money is available for things such as infrastructure development and tourism development.
"Bulgaria has a rapidly growing, technologically developed economy. The country has the second highest living standard in Southeastern Europe in terms of GDP (gross domestic product) per capita. Due to its entrance into the EU this trend is expected to continue and the standard of living here will only increase," Duprey said. "However, the country is very poor and the GDP per capita is only $4,800 dollars per year compared to the United States that has a per capita of $44,190 dollars per year."
As the country continues to advance, Duprey wants to contribute what he can.
"I hope that through my PC service I can transfer some of my expertise to the Bulgarian people. Help develop the professional capacity of the people within my municipality, educate people on environmental protection, spread good will from the American people to the developing world, develop an increased understanding of world relations and EU integration and be able to take part in a historic process within Bulgaria (their entrance and transition into the EU)."
Duprey is staying extremely busy developing a national brochure on recycling, working with local teachers to create an eco-center and participating in the World Wise Schools program which involves cross cultural exchange with his cousin Dina Duprey's third grade class at Holy Name School in Chicopee.
"I thought it would be a wonderful experience for the class to let them know that there's other experiences out there," Dina said. "They were able to see the different culture."
The class learned about Bulgarian holidays and lifestyles and gave a presentation to the school at the end of the year. Dina said she plans to continue the corresponding with her new third grade class and added that Duprey "is very enthusiastic about his job. He thoroughly enjoys the environment. That is just rooted in his soul."
Duprey said he understands why his parents were proud when they came to visit him last month. "For them, it was a great reward to see my cultural integration, my Bulgarian language skills, and the many friends I have made that consider me part of their family," he said. "I have learned to become more patient, learned to accept and understand other people's cultures and perspectives, I have learned that the best experiences are indeed the ones that are the hardest to make, that cultures may be different, but we share many similarities as human beings, and that nothing is more valuable in life than giving something of yourself to other people."
"Never give up on your children," Cindy reiterated. "No matter what anybody says, always try to find ways to encourage them and to let them know that they're loved."