Peace Corps Turns 50
On March 1,1961, President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order creating the Peace Corps, which a New York Times story from that day described as "an organization in which American men and women can enlist in voluntary, unpaid service in the developing countries of the world."
As a 50th anniversary article from the Voice of America website recalls, Kennedy told potential volunteers that their nation's reputation overseas would depend in large part upon their efforts: "If you can impress them with your commitment to freedom, to the advancement of the interests of people everywhere, to your pride in your country and its best traditions, and what it stands for, the influence may be far-reaching."
Since the late President uttered those inspiring words, some 200,000 Americans -- including many baby boomers -- have answered his call. Over the past year, SecondAct has published several stories detailing their efforts, including this list of boomers who volunteered in their youth and went on to illustrious careers, from former Secretary of Human Services Donna Shalala, to Netflix founder Reed Hastings and satirical country singer-detective novelist Kinky Friedman. SecondAct also wrote about former Corps volunteer Ann Moore, who observed how women in Africa carried their children in shawls, and was inspired to invent the Snugli.
We also introduced you to Lynn Dines, a former pharmaceutical executive from Southern California who went to Morocco at age 54 to teach business skills to village carpet weavers. Dines, who has since finished her service, is part of a growing surge of boomers who've joined the Corps as a midlife second act. For more on Dines, the University of California-Los Angeles website offers her personal essay on her experiences.
Here are some fast facts from the Peace Corps website:
- Current number of volunteers: 8,655
- Gender: 60 percent female, 40 percent male
- Average age: 28
- Volunteers over age 50: 7 percent
- Current number of countries served: 77
- 2011 budget: $400 million
- Where volunteers serve: Africa (37 percent); Latin America (24 percent); Eastern Europe/Central Asia (7 percent); Caribbean (5 percent); Middle East (4 percent); Pacific islands (3 percent)
- What issues volunteers work on: education (37 percent); health (22 percent); business development (14 percent); environment (13 percent); agriculture (4 percent); youth development (5 percent); other areas (5 percent)
Also worth reading is this op-ed article by former volunteers Beth and Ron Chance, who are urging members of Congress not to cut $69 million from the Peace Corps' budget.
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