President John F. Kennedy, in coordination with Congress, created the Peace Corps in 1961. The agency works to provide interested (developing) countries with American volunteers. Peace Corps volunteers work with the local governments in these nations to create “sustainable, community-based projects.” By comparison to other federal agencies, the Peace Corps’ budget is relatively small ($379 million in 2014). Despite this fact, the Peace Corps has played an important role in providing trained American volunteers to communities, around the world, who need them. Over 215,000 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers since the agency’s founding in 1961.
Here are five interesting facts about the Peace Corps.
Dynamic First Director: President Kennedy tapped R. Sargent Shriver to helm the Peace Corps in 1961. Shriver served in that position until 1966. As the Peace Corps’ first director, he was instrumental in helping to shape the agency into what it is today. Shriver also served in other government roles, including as ambassador to France.
Americans might also remember that Shriver married a Kennedy (Eunice Kennedy), and that he was the father-in-law of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Shriver passed away in 2011 at the age of 95.
Not Just for the Young: Many people might be surprised to learn that the Peace Corps does not set an upper age limit. Anyone who is an American citizen and is over 18 years of age is welcome to apply to be a Peace Corps volunteer. While the majority of Peace Corps volunteers are young, the agency attracts a surprisingly large number of older applicants. Around eight percent of the Peace Corps’ current crop of volunteers is at least 50 years of age.
Famous Alumni: A number of famous Americans have served in the Peace Corps. They include such diverse personalities as Reed Hastings, the founder and CEO of Netflix; Bob Vila, the well-known home improvement guru; and Joanie Laurer (aka Chyna), an ex-professional wrestler.
Perks of the Job: The Peace Corps is not an easy job. Volunteers often work long hours and live (by American standards anyway) in unfamiliar, harsh conditions. However, the job does have its perks. Peace Corps alumni can gain advantages over other applicants, when applying for federal jobs. They also might receive special consideration from private non-profit employers, including well-known organizations such as the AARP and the Special Olympics.
Significant International Footprint: Peace Corps volunteers have served in a majority of the world’s countries. A whopping 139 nations have hosted the agency’s volunteers. Almost half of the Peace Corps volunteers have worked in Africa; however, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Asia are also well represented. As far as individual nations go, the Philippines has been the top destination spot for Peace Corps volunteers. “More than 8,700 Volunteers have served there since 1961.”
Peace Corps. (2014). Fact Sheet.