JFK's Peace Corps Prepares for 50th Birthday
In 1960, presidential candidate John F. Kennedy's campaign proposals included one particularly novel idea. He wanted to recruit an army of volunteers who would counter the threat of international communism not with guns, but by working in impoverished and developing countries to improve the lives of people there. In a Nov. 2, 1960 speech in San Francisco, Kennedy described his vision for what he called a "peace corps."
"We cannot discontinue training our young men as soldiers of war," Kennedy told the audience, according to a New York Times account. "But we also need them as ambassadors of peace. This would be a volunteer corps--and volunteers would be sought among talented young women as well--and from every race and walk of life."
In the half-century since JFK made that speech, altruistically-minded Americans--including many boomers--have been carrying out the global mission of goodwill that he envisioned. Some members of our generation--including such luminaries as NetFlix founder Reed Hastings and TV journalist and commentator Chris Matthews--volunteered to serve abroad as adventurous twentysomethings. As we previously wrote about in this story, a growing number of boomers also are volunteering in midlife. SecondAct featured Lynn Dines, a 54-year-old pharmaceutical executive from Huntington Beach who now teaches business basics to carpet weavers in a Moroccan village. I also saw this great article at InJersey.com about Dr. Madhu Vadnere, a 60-year-old scientist and business consultant who is preparing to spend two years in Mexico helping people develop sustainable businesses and clean up the environment. Vadnere said he researched various volunteer opportunities and that the corps offers what he sees as the best, most diverse experience. "There is opportunity to learn so many new things including language, culture, a new country, new skills and making lasting connections with people where I have never been," he says.
To celebrate next year's anniversary of the organization's' official founding in 1961, the National Peace Corps Association, a group of alumni and supporters, is sponsoring "My Piece of the Corps." The contest invites people to submit one-to-two-minute videos about how the Peace Corps or a corps member changed their lives for the better. The winner will receive a grand prize of $2,500 (with $500 and $1,000 prizes for runners-up).
You don't have to be a Peace Corps member or alumnus to participate in the competition. For more information and instructions on how to submit your video, go to this web page. The deadline is Sept. 30.
Need some inspiration? Check out American Idealist: The Story of Sargent Shriver, a documentary about the corps' first director under President Kennedy.
Photo above: JFK welcome early Peace Corps volunteers.
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