Director Olsen announces return of volunteers, commemorates ‘founding moment’

October 14, 2020

WASHINGTON – Peace Corps Director Jody K. Olsen announced volunteers will begin returning to service in January.

Speaking to staff today during a town hall meeting launching the agency’s yearlong 60th anniversary celebration, Director Olsen said public health conditions permit the return of volunteers to the Eastern Caribbean.

The agency suspended global operations in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am thrilled to share this good news as we commemorate our founding moment, when then candidate John F. Kennedy planted the seed for what would become the Peace Corps during an early morning speech October 14, 1960 at the University of Michigan,” said Director Olsen. “Our decision to return to the field follows months of extensive preparations and review, and I am extremely grateful to the many staff and host country partners who contributed to this effort. I also salute the evacuated volunteers who are joining us as we take these first steps to resume operations and begin the celebration of our 60th anniversary.”

President Kennedy formally created the Peace Corps by executive order on March 1, 1961.

At the time of the evacuations in March, nearly 7,000 volunteers were serving in 60 countries. Since that time, the Peace Corps has worked tirelessly to develop a comprehensive process to safely return volunteers, including evaluating each post based on medical, security, programmatic, administrative and logistical criteria.

Staff from each post worked closely with the Peace Corps medical and safety and security experts to develop COVID-19 emergency response plans. Returning volunteers will be tested for COVID-19, quarantine for 14 days after arrival in their host country and receive training to safeguard against exposure to the virus during their service.

Conditions are subject to change, but the Peace Corps is set to begin screening evacuees for their return to the Eastern Caribbean. Decisions on the resumption of operations in several other countries are expected this fall.

“The idea of the Peace Corps—that volunteers could serve their country for the cause of peace by living and working in other countries—struck a chord with thousands of Americans in the early 1960s. That enthusiasm continues today,” said Director Olsen. “We are working together across the agency to ensure that mission continues into the future.”

Director Olsen also announced the revival of several awards that will be presented to returned volunteers and members of the Peace Corps community in the coming months as part of the agency’s 60th anniversary celebration.

Those awards include the Franklin H. Williams Award, which recognizes returned volunteers from diverse backgrounds who demonstrate a lifelong commitment to civic engagement, service, diversity and inclusion, and the Peace Corps’ Third Goal of promoting a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

Franklin H. Williams was an early architect of the Peace Corps. He worked at the agency from its inception in 1961 to 1963 and helped Sargent Shriver—the first Peace Corps director—promote the agency and its programs to the world.

Click on the following link to nominate a returned volunteer for the Williams award: https://www.peacecorps.gov/about/history/awards/williams/

The Peace Corps will also present the John F. Kennedy Service Award and the Lilian Carter Award, carry out research on the contributions of returned volunteers to American communities and celebrate the personal stories of people who volunteered in each of the agency’s six decades.

More information about the awards and news about other 60th anniversary commemorations will be announced soon.

About the Peace Corps: The Peace Corps sends Americans with a passion for service abroad on behalf of the United States to work with communities and create lasting change. Volunteers develop sustainable solutions to address challenges in education, health, community economic development, agriculture, the environment and youth development. Through their Peace Corps experience, volunteers gain a unique cultural understanding and a life-long commitment to service that positions them to succeed in today's global economy. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 235,000 Americans of all ages have served in 141 countries worldwide. For more information, visit peacecorps.gov and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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