Left Justified: Honoring the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary

By Stanley Campbell

Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corps to encourage young Americans to help the world. Well, what really happened was he casually mentioned volunteering overseas to some college students, and their response was very positive (his staff told Kennedy to rescind the suggestions). Instead, JFK gave the idea to one of his sister’s husbands to put him to work. Luckily, Sargent Shriver was a workaholic and a liberal do-gooder.

“Sarge” quickly got the program off the ground, sending hundreds, then thousands of youngsters off to foreign lands.

Rockford Urban Ministries (for which I work) is organizing a program honoring the Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary. We need help contacting Peace Corps members and family. We also welcome youngsters considering the Peace Corps. In the Rockford area, there are 40 returned Peace Corps volunteers whom we know about.

Christ United Methodist Church (at the southeast corner of North Alpine and Highcrest) has volunteered to host the 6:30 p.m. supper in their fellowship hall Thursday, March 24. You are welcome, but get your reservations in by March 22.

A simple “ethnic” meal is planned, offered free to returned and families of active Peace Corps volunteers. The public is welcome, and may donate any amount for the meal. “Peanut stew” on a bed of brown rice, a salad and dessert round out the simple meal. Anyone wishing to attend should call Rockford Urban Ministries at (815) 964-7111.

The dinner will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a free program to follow at 7 p.m. Peace Corps volunteers will introduce themselves and may display mementos of their country of service as well as answer questions.

Individuals and businesses are welcome to co-sponsor the meal. Any donation is welcome, made out to Rockford Urban Ministries.

The following was lifted from Wikipedia, off the Internet:

“After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks alerted the nation to growing anti-U.S. sentiment in the Middle East, President George W. Bush pledged to double the size of the organization within five years as a part of the War on Terrorism. For the 2004 fiscal year, Congress passed a budget increase at U.S. $325 million, U.S. $30 million above that of 2003 but U.S. $30 million below the president’s request.

“As part of an economic stimulus package in 2008, President Barack Obama proposed to double the size of the Peace Corps. However, as of 2010, the amount requested was insufficient to reach this goal by 2011. Congress raised the 2010 appropriation from the U.S. $373 million requested by the president to U.S. $400 million, and proposed bills would raise this further for 2011 and 2012.

“According to former director Gaddi Vasquez, the Peace Corps is trying to recruit more diverse volunteers of different ages and make it look ‘more like America.’ A Harvard International Review article from 2007 proposes to expand the Peace Corps, revisit its mission and equip it with new technology. In 1961, only 1 percent of volunteers were over 50, compared with 5 percent today. Ethnic minorities currently comprise 19 percent of volunteers.”

We hope to honor those who served the ideals of peace and freedom, and well represented those American ideals to the world. We also hope to encourage others to consider the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and any volunteer program as worthwhile.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the March 16-22, 2011, issue

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