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Commemorating 50 Years of Peace and Friendship Through Service

Aaron S. Williams, Director of the Peace Corps and former Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, reflects on the importance of community service and the impact Peace Corps has had in communities around the world.
Director Aaron Williams, Peace Corps

Director Williams with Peace Corps Volunteers in Ghana, October 2010. Ghana and Tanzania were the first Peace Corps programs to welcome volunteers in 1961. April 1, 2011. (by Peace Corps)

Peace Corps is as vibrant today as it was a half a century ago and continues to capture the imagination of Americans committed to service.  Our 50th Anniversary is an opportunity to honor our past and advance our mission of world peace and friendship through education and engagement.  As part of our commemoration, the Peace Corps is encouraging Americans to consider participating in a community service project here at home to honor the work of our Volunteers and the vision of public service as envisioned by President John F. Kennedy. 

This past month, Peace Corps staff, returned Volunteers and our regional recruiting offices across the country commemorated the anniversary through local service projects, both in the United States and in Peace Corps host countries.  Our regional recruiting offices have initiated community-service projects, such as cleaning a community park, sorting donations at a food bank, serving lunch to veterans, and tutoring students in afterschool programs.  Peace Corps staff overseas have been working with Volunteers on a variety of projects in the fields of agriculture, business and information technology, education, environment, and public health.

In addition to working together on community service projects, our 50th anniversary has been a time of reflection.  I have heard countless stories of service.  I met with many of our founders and original staff members who have spent the last 50 years working to increase service opportunities for all Americans.  I spoke with applicants who have been inspired by their local service experiences and are looking to make a difference globally.  I went to El Salvador and the Dominican Republic to meet with current volunteers who have been forever changed by their leadership experiences.  The sum total of all of these stories of service is the legacy of Peace Corps. 

In our 50th year, over 8,600 Americans ranging in age from 21 to 86, and from all 50 states, are serving as Peace Corps volunteers in 77 countries.  Today, there are more Americans serving as Peace Corps Volunteers than any point in the last 40 years.  Our Volunteers represent the best America has to offer – they are grassroots ambassadors for the United States.  They represent America's values, generosity and hope.  Although much has changed since 1961, our mission to promote world peace and friendship through service remains the same. 

For me, as for so many Volunteers, the Peace Corps experience was nothing short of transformative – with an impact that has lasted far beyond our years overseas. 

Aaron S. Williams is the Director of the Peace Corps; he served as a Peace CorpsVolunteer in the Dominican Republic from 1967-1970.