February 10, 2002 - Boston Globe: Mark Gearan - The Promise of Citizen Service

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By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, February 12, 2002 - 8:55 am: Edit Post

Mark Gearan - The Promise of Citizen Service

Read and comment on this op ed piece from the Boston Globe by Former Peace Corps Director Mark Gearan where he argues that would be a mistake to let the individual identities of organizations like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and others be swallowed up by a separate umbrella organization at:

The promise of citizen service*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.

The promise of citizen service

By Mark Gearan, 2/10/2002

IN HIS STATE of the Union speech, President Bush issued an eloquent call to service that should be embraced by every American.

The attacks of Sept. 11 have reinforced the spirit of citizen service that is part of our national character and culture. The president should be applauded for proposing a variety of ways to expand the private and public institutions that give Americans the opportunity to volunteer their time and skills to a greater cause.

As director of the Peace Corps, as a board member of the Corporation for National Service (which governs AmeriCorps and other domestic service programs), and as a college president, I have had the privilege of seeing first hand the depth of our nation's commitment to public service, especially by America's youth.

Public service engages people in matters beyond their own. It strengthens the fabric of our society. And it can solve vexing problems - keeping a neighborhood drug-free, teaching a child to read, or helping African villagers earn money by marketing their weavings. It is amazing what people will do on their own and the inspirational effect they can have on others without the incentive of profit.

The centerpiece of President Bush's call to service is the establishment of the USA Freedom Corps. If the primary purpose of the USA Freedom Corps is to foster greater collaboration among the government's volunteer programs and develop more opportunities for more Americans to serve, it can be a positive step.

But it would be a mistake to let the individual identities of organizations like the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and others be swallowed up by a separate umbrella organization. The last attempt to consolidate government volunteer programs - ACTION under President Nixon - failed, in part, because it blurred the distinctive nature of each agency's mission.

For the Peace Corps, the preservation of its unique character and mission - and its independence - is particularly important. Over the last four decades, it has earned a rare, nonpartisan space in our public life. Peace Corps volunteers themselves have built a worldwide reputation as representing the best of the American people, not as official representatives of the US government or its policies. This was the brilliance of the program - to sponsor citizen service that is altruistic and focused on solving real problems, while being divorced from political considerations and strategic foreign policy objectives.

Though subtle, the basic character and image of the Peace Corps is the root of its success, both in the public's eye and in Congress. In 1999, President Clinton and a Republican Congress authorized a 50 percent increase in the number of volunteers - to 10,000.

When President Clinton first proposed establishing AmeriCorps, it was the subject of fierce partisan debate. Today, it has support from both parties in Congress, and President Bush wants to further expand the program. The president's call to service struck a deeply responsive chord among many Americans. By calling for broad expansions in the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, and other volunteer agencies, the president honored the service of hundreds of thousands of Americans and reaffirmed the wisdom of government support for these programs. With his leadership, there is great potential for people of every background to solve problems in our communities, strengthen international understanding overseas, and ultimately lift the hopes of the less fortunate through volunteer service.

However the USA Freedom Corps is ultimately defined, growing the Peace Corps and its Crisis Corps as well as AmeriCorps is a great idea. But the administration and Congress must retain the qualities and traditions that have made them so successful.

Mark Gearan is president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y.

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By Richard H. Roth on Thursday, February 14, 2002 - 12:44 pm: Edit Post

As a two time Peace Corps volunteer, serving in Sierra Leone, West Africa, 91-92, and Mozambique, 98-2001, I applaud the idea of expanding the Peace Corps. There will be more peace,justice, and freedom in the world when we export more dollars in Peace Corps Volunteers than we do in armanents and weapons of destruction.
In fact, to borrow a phrase, "I have a dream that someday there will be more U.S. Peace Corps Volunteers than U.S. military personnel. I have dream that Peace Corps building will one day dwarf the size of the Pentagon. I have a dream that one day little boys and girls from North Korea, Iraq, Iran,Palestine, Afghanistan will be able to join hands with young Americans and walk together as sisters and brothers. This is my hope.
We rebuilt Europe after the war with massive influx of capital. The capital for the 21st century should be trained Peace Corps Volunteers to aid countries in their quest to meet the needs of their own people.
Former Peace Corps Director Gearan is quite right however, to blend Peace Corps with other volunteer organizations with different missions would be a dreadful mistake. Too often during my three years of Peace Coprs service, host country nationals often questioned, whether as Peace Corps volunteers, we weren't really CIA agents. Peace Corps must remain an autonomous, seperate agency if it is too adequately and credibly function in the rest of the world.

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