Building schools around the world for 50 years

Peace Corps director to speak in Oak Park

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing Reporter

For 50 years, the Oak Park Council on International Affairs, a local private nonprofit organization using community donations, has provided critical funding for Peace Corps projects in the field.

To celebrate and commemorate that ongoing philanthropy, next Tuesday, Nov. 19, Carrie Hessler-Radelet, acting director of the Peace Corps, will pay a visit to mark the 50th Annual Peace Corps Partnership Benefit Dinner at the Nineteenth Century Charitable Association, 178 Forest Ave., in Oak Park.

"We are honored that [Hessler-Radelet] is coming to Oak Park because the Peace Corps itself is celebrating 50 years of the Partnership Program," said Brian Flora, a recent retiree of the State Department's American Foreign Service Diplomacy division. "On a per capita basis, we have probably given more to Partnership projects than any other community in the country. In 2013, for example, we coordinated the funding for 13 separate projects around the world. Each project represents around $1,000 in donations. She is coming out to help us celebrate our 50th anniversary and to personally thank us for that financial support."

Flora noted that Hessler-Radelet is a fourth generation Peace Corps volunteer, who served as deputy director of the Peace Corps since June 2010 and acting director since September 2012. She has been nominated by President Obama to be the next Peace Corps Director.

"She does have a clear vision of where the Peace Corps needs to go and knows how it has evolved over the years, and that is what we are eager to hear," Flora said.

The Peace Corps seed was planted on Oct. 14, 1960, when presidential candidate John F. Kennedy challenged 5,000 University of Michigan students to serve their country for the cause of peace by living and working in the developing world. The Peace Corps was established by executive order on March 1, 1961

The national agency emerged with the aim of having its participants promote world peace and friendship via more than 8,600 volunteers serving in 76 countries.

Since 1961, more than 200,000 Americans have served in the Peace Corps in 139 countries. OPCIA was founded in the 1930s to study world cultures and problems, and began supporting the Peace Corps' efforts in 1964, when its members voted to participate in the newly formed School-to-School/Peace Corps Partnership Program, becoming one of its initial funders, said past-president Dr. Kamala Pillay. At the time, the effort was spearheaded by Elsie Jacobsen, a legendary Oak Park community activist.

Over the last 50 years, OPCIA, via donations from countless local supporters, has consistently provided funding for nearly 460 Peace Corps-assisted schools, said Pillay.

Last year, the nonprofit helped fund the creation of classrooms for a middle school in Cameroon, a project which will help young girls in sixth and seventh grade, as well as a solar electricity project for a rural health center in Malawi, and the creation of a community center and garden in the Dominican Republic.

"Our focus is really to help push forward educational projects out in the world, and coordinate them through the Peace Corps," Dr. Pillay said. "One of the things we are proud of is the fact that every cent we collect goes directly to the Peace Corps workers. There are no administrative costs, and the only [overhead] expense we have is mailing because in working with the Peace Corps as long as we have, all our time is all volunteer."

Cost per person for the OPCIA gala is $50, with all proceeds directly benefiting the Peace Corps Partnership Program around the world. To attend the event, contact OPCIA Treasurer Brian Flora at flora.brian@gmail.com.

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