SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Local News

March 4, 2011

Happy birthday, Peace Corps

Local veterans to celebrate 50 years of America's volunteer service

MARBLEHEAD — The flame of idealism burns bright, but it rarely burns long.

The Peace Corps might be an exception.

Founded 50 years ago, it was meant to send out an army of peace, a force for good intended to provide Western technical expertise in some of the world's poorest countries. And it has attracted generations of idealistic Americans eager to help those less fortunate.

A little more than 10 years ago, Alison Williams, 36, of Marblehead was one of them. She served in Mali, a central African country often considered one of the poorest in the world. Her primary skill — she studied photography at the Rochester Institute of Technology — was of little practical use.

But Williams studied a bit of agriculture, combining it with her experience working in a Marblehead nursery, and was able to make an impact helping people learn the art of gardening. Thus, they were able to supplement their own food supply with what they grew on small plots.

On Saturday, she'll mark the birthday of the Peace Corps with a party at her house.

"It's just an idea I had to see if any locals who served in Mali could come," she says. But she's not limiting the guest list — any former Peace Corps volunteer is welcome. Invitations went out to people from places as diverse as Beverly and Dorchester, with service from Mongolia to Ghana.

The National Peace Corps Association, a sort of veterans group for former members, encouraged similar parties throughout the country this week, most of them on Tuesday, the anniversary of the creation of the Peace Corps in 1961. The celebrations varied from potluck gatherings to parties attracting up to 100 people.

"It included 740 house parties around the globe," said Molly Mattessich in the association's Washington office. Like Williams, Mattessich served in Mali. She noted, however, that as many as 200,000 people have gone out as Peace Corps volunteers, showing America's friendliest face to the world.

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