When we think of community service, we almost always think in terms of our local community. And reaching out to those in your own town is truly the most dynamic type of community service. But there are dramatic examples of people who reached out beyond the city limits of where they lived to really make a difference in the lives of people around them.
Examples of ways that neighbors reached out to neighbors beyond their borders and out into the larger community of the nation can be found in youth outreach programs through local churches or community centers. Every year thousands of youth spread out all over the country to help those less fortunate than themselves. But there is one example of neighbor helping neighbor even past the borders of our country. This is an example of government working hand in hand with citizens to extend helping hands around the world. And that example of community service on a global scale is the Peace Corps.
The idea of the Peace Corps was the brainchild of dreamers during the 1960s, a decade where the youth of America were searching for self-definition. It took a dynamic leader like John F. Kennedy to take that vision and find a way to organize it into a government program that could capitalize on the energy, the good will and the enthusiasm of youth to reach out to nations around the world. The idea had gained sufficient momentum that it became an important part of Kennedy’s campaign for the presidency so much so that when President Kennedy gave his inaugural speech, it was the Peace Corps he was talking about when he uttered those historic words…
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country”
The Peace Corps has given tens of thousands of America’s youth the opportunity to become part of a large community service outreach where that opportunity may not have existed before. Since its inception in 1960, over 187,000 people have served in the Peace Corps.
If we take the time to reflect on the mission of the Peace Corps, it was truly an ambitious undertaking. The scope of this new federal agency was well summarized in the wording of the actual law that brought into being which states that the Peace Corps was established… ‘to promote world peace and friendship through a Peace Corps, which shall make available to interested countries and areas men and women of the United States qualified for service abroad and willing to serve, under conditions of hardship if necessary, to help the peoples of such countries and areas in meeting their needs for trained manpower.” One wonders how the Peace Corps really is a way for a young person to ask what they can do for America in that it is an outreach to people in need all over the world. But in truth, efforts like the Peace Corps have done as much to promote democracy and to build good will between foreign nations and the United States as any official ambassador or formal meeting of heads of states could ever do.
The Peace Corps has build relationships between peoples at the local level. And it is when the citizens of nations around the world see the true hearts of Americans and that sense of trust and good will is built up between peoples that the good will that naturally happens on a Peace Corps outing begins to take root and change opinions on a national level about what America is really all about.
We can only hope that the Peace Corps continues to do its good work for many generations to come. The friendship it builds between people of all nationalities can go further to spread democracy and our way of life than any war can do. And in doing so, it fulfills the dream of President Kennedy that America’s youth would be more about helping others than their own ambitions and that this would be his legacy to America and indeed to all the world.