60 years after the Peace Corps, service still brings Americans together


Sixty years ago this week, President John F. Kennedy signed into law the legislation that created the Peace Corps, forever transforming what it means to serve our country. 

Founded on principles of friendship, peace, volunteerism and service, the Peace Corps represents the best America has to offer. It’s the foundation upon which most of America’s civilian national service programs are built, and its creation ignited an ethic of service that has been fundamental to our country for the last half-century. 

We are former heads of the two largest national service programs and were appointed by presidents from opposite political parties. We may not agree on everything, but we are both certain that national service has the power to unite our divided country.  

Both AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps — the organizations we previously led — are committed to advancing national service in America. Together, both programs have engaged approximately 1.5 million Americans in service at home and abroad. The Peace Corps immerses Americans in local communities abroad to tackle the most pressing global challenges of our time. Meanwhile, AmeriCorps is focused on service here at home — bringing Americans together to serve our local communities across the country. Whether it’s encouraging citizens to respond to natural disasters, promoting peace and diplomacy overseas or tackling issues in their own communities, it’s inspiring to see Americans of all backgrounds serve alongside one another with a shared mission.  

We know from our experience leading these agencies that our country is stronger when Americans are coming together in common purpose — when they are answering a call to service and putting their heads together around the good they can do for the country and the world.  

As we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Peace Corps this week — and the 27th anniversary of AmeriCorps this week as well — we reflect not only on the past six decades of service but also set our sights on what comes next. How can we expand on these 60 years of service and further enhance the sense of shared purpose, responsibility and commitment to our country that comes with national service? 

We have the potential to bring together Americans of all ages, and especially the younger generation, for a year (or more) of service, uniting people of different races, religions and political backgrounds — but we need political leadership to make this vision a reality.  

Just as military service breaks down barriers between service members, national service with AmeriCorps and the Peace Corps allows those who serve to better understand those around them. Service celebrates and promotes America’s diversity and creates bridges to mutual understanding. Corps members and volunteers build bonds that are stronger than their differences as well as a sense of empathy and cultural competence that is otherwise missing from our society and is a critical component for healing our nation’s deep divides.

As President Biden sets his sights on the next three years of his administration, we encourage him to turn his attention to repairing divisions here at home through national service.   

A January 2021 survey from the Serve America Together campaign on Americans’ attitudes toward national service found that young people would eagerly answer the president’s call to service. In fact, 44 percent of young people ages 18-28 — and 60 percent of young people of color — are interested in participating in national service. That’s approximately 1.7 million young people who would serve if given the opportunity. This compares to the roughly 100,000 service opportunities with programs like AmeriCorps and Peace Corps that are available today.  

Effective and impactful national service programs are at the ready and a generation of young Americans are waiting in the wings to serve. Now it’s time for Biden to take action. 

Barbara Stewart was appointed by President Trump as the CEO of Corporation for National and Community Service. Aaron Williams was appointed by President Obama as the director of the Peace Corps.

Tags AmeriCorps Barack Obama Diversity Donald Trump Joe Biden National service Peace Corps political divisiveness Unity

More Civil Rights News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video