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On the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps foundation, we look back at a public service movement whose more than 8,600 volunteers are currently sharing the knowledge and inspiration of the American people in 77 countries worldwide. The Peace Corps volunteers have made a difference in local communities for half a century, working as community leaders, teachers and mentors.
In light of this anniversary, the United States will honor over 200,000 Americans who have served in 139 countries as well as thank the countries who have welcomed the Peace Corp volunteers into their communities, allowing the organization to carry out its works.
March 1, 1961 – President John F. Kennedy signs off on the launch of a pilot program which the newly elected President has named the Peace Corps. Its goal is to help interested countries develop the skills of their nations men and women as well as increase the mutual understanding between the American people and the people they serve. Sargent Shriver becomes the program’s first director.
In his inaugural address, President Kennedy said — “And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
June 30, 1962 – Volunteers commence programs in a total of 28 countries, including Afghanistan, Cameroon, Ecuador, Iran, Nepal and Thailand.
June 1966 – Since the programs official authorization in September 1961, just five years prior, the number of volunteers increased to 15,000 which is the organization’s largest number to date.
1971 – Along with several other programs including the Foster Grandparent Program and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, the Peace Corps is sectioned under a new federal volunteer agency called ACTION by President Nixon.
1977 – President Carter appoints Carolyn Robertson Payton to be the first female and first African American Peace Corps director.
1979 – After a period under the umbrella agency ACTION, the Peace Corps was made fully autonomous under orders of President Jimmy Carter, a status which is secured by 1981, making the organization an independent federal agency.
1985 – For the first time in Peace Corps history, there are more women answering the call than men — a trend that continues until today.
1989 – The website Peace Corps Writers is established as a newsletter for an about Peace Corps volunteers with an interest in sharing their experiences. The site later moved to peacecorpsworldwide.org where writers provide both personal and professional resources to returning volunteers and newcomers.
October 7, 1993 – Carol Bellamy becomes the fist Returned Peace Corps Volunteer to serve as director of the agency.
1997 – South Africa receives 33 Peace Corps volunteers who will work with teachers in the post-apartheid country.
September 11, 2001 – President George W. Bush pledges to double the size of the organization within five years in response to the growing anti-US sentiment around the Middle East.
2005 – For the first time, Peace Corp volunteers served individuals in the United States. They assisted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
2009 – Peace Corp volunteers focus efforts in Rwanda, teaching HIV and AIDS awareness and prevention classes.
Dec 18, 2009 – The Peace Corp launches a digital library where current and former Peace Corp members can share stories about their experiences.
2010 – Peace Corps re-opens programs in Colombia, Indonesia, and Sierra Leone and surpasses the 200,000 mark in total Americans who have served as Peace Corps Volunteers.
Various anniversary events will take place to celebrate Peace Corps and all its accomplishments.
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