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Next stop for McNary alum: Kenya

Trevor Bassett-Smith, with dad Ron and brother-in-law Daniel Unck, prepare to fire up a rebuilt engine during Trevor’s senior year in high school. Trevor, now 23, is headed to Kenya to work in the Peace Corps. (Submitted photo)

Of the Keizertimes

When Trevor Bassett-Smith got off the field during his final McNary High School football game, he wasn’t greeted, as he expected, by his mother. He was met by friends of the family.

“They told me that my mom had gone to the hospital to be with my dad,” Trevor said.

Trevor’s father, Ron Bassett-Smith, had been battling with cancer and a malformed kidney, both the result of exposure to the synthetic pesticide DDT while serving in Vietnam. Ron had recently undergone surgery to treat kidney issues and doctors knicked an artery that been displaced because of the malformation. He’d already undergone one surgery to repair the bleeding, but it ruptured again while Trevor was on the field.

Tom Smythe, McNary’s then-football coach, drove Trevor to the hospital to meet his parents.

“The first words out my dad’s mouth were, ‘Hey, I’m sorry, but how was your game,” Trevor, now 23, said. “Even then he still wanted to give me so much.”

Trevor’s relationship with his father weighed heavily in his decision to apply for the Peace Corps last year and he deployed on assignment to Kenya earlier this month.

“I started thinking that I had a lot of opportunities in my life that were handed to me, and I thought it would be a good choice to give to someone else who didn’t have those opportunities,” Trevor said.

Smythe and Soren Sorenson, Trevor’s track and field coach at Willamette University, were also a factor in his desire to give back some of the generosity he’s received.

“Coach Smythe was the was the first person who gave me respect when I worked hard in athletics, and no matter how hard I worked at Willamette, Soren was willing to work harder for me.”

He graduated from Willamette last year with a degree in economics and



minor in German, and planned on pursuing a career in track and field competition until a shoulder surgery last fall put the kibosh on those hopes. A friend Trevor played football with had mentioned he was checking out the Peace Corps and, with athletics sliding out of view, Trevor decided to join its ranks.

“The application process takes about a year and they make you write a number of essays. By the end, you’ve got a good idea of your potential and attached a lot of emotions to going by the time you get an assignment,” Trevor said.

His first stop was Philadelphia for staging and then he headed to Kenya for a 10-week pre-service training. He’ll live with a host family while directing his efforts to learning Swahili. After that, he’ll travel to Loitokitok, Kenya, on the border of Kenya and Tanzania at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro. In Loitokitok, he’ll be putting his economics degree to work for local Kenyan business owners.

“Basically, I’ll be working with small mom-and-pop business with low-level business skills and teaching them how to keep business ledgers, and do marketing and leadership training,” Trevor said.

Working with business people will be his 9-to-5 job, but in his spare time he’s been tapped to help at orphanages, promote HIV/AIDS awareness, teach introductions to sports like baseball and basketball and offer seminars on American culture and teach basic English language courses and life skills classes.

He spent the weeks leading up to the trip talking to classes at McNary about what the Peace Corps application process was like and his motivations for his trip, including his father’s story.  When he returns, Trevor is thinking about pursuing a master’s degree in international relations, but for the time being, he said, his primary focus is excitement for everything to come.

“It’s going to be rough, but it’s so exciting and bigger than me. It’s too great an opportunity to not be excited,” Trevor said. “I’ll really be able to broaden my view of the world, live in another culture, be away from a lot of the commercialism we have in the U.S., and be with people who have less, but are no less happy.”