Carrie Hessler-Radelet: Choose Optimism

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Carrie Hessler-Radelet – a native of Michigan and the former Director of the Peace Corps – and her extended family have a remarkable and unique relationship with that storied organization. They hold the distinction of being the only Peace Corps family to have four generations serve as volunteers, including both of her grandparents, her aunt and her nephew. In fact, Carrie’s aunt, Virginia Kirkwood – who served in Turkey and was the 10,000th volunteer – inspired Carrie to join the Peace Corps.

After her graduation from Boston University, Carrie and her husband served as Peace Corps volunteers in Western Samoa, where they taught at an all-girls school. Her story of their relationship with their host family – Losa and Viane and their nine children – is incredibly moving.

Part of that story includes a return visit to their host family while Carrie was Director of the Peace Corps – 32 years after she served as a volunteer in Western Samoa. If you want to understand how a volunteer can change lives in a remote corner of the planet, Carrie’s story is illuminating and inspirational.

The Peace Corps is one the most popular, successful, and admired organizations in America. President John F. Kennedy, shortly after his inauguration in 1961, created the Peace Corps and called on volunteers to immerse themselves in another culture and another community, in every corner of the globe.

Today, these volunteers (of all ages), work side by side with local leaders, to tackle some of the most difficult and vexing problems on the planet – from health care, to education, to food security, to climate change. The men and women who serve in the Peace Corps are truly among America’s best, representing the best of America.

In 2014, following her nomination by President Barack Obama, Carrie became the Director of the Peace Corps. As Director, she led an extensive organizational reform effort, most notably to enhance the health and safety of volunteers, including the development of a sexual assault risk reduction and response program. That, she will tell you, had a very personal component to it – as a young volunteer in Western Samoa, Carrie was sexually assaulted. When other victims came forward and shared their own stories with her, Carrie knew that the Peace Corps had to take decisive action to ensure the health and safety of its volunteers around the globe.

Carrie’s description of the Peace Corps and the stories of service, humility, compassion and dedication among the volunteers – including a story Carrie shares about a volunteer named Peter – are inspirational. Carrie illustrates beautifully, why the Peace Corps plays such a vital role in America and around the world, and why we should always choose optimism.

If you would like to learn more about this marvelous organization - which celebrates its 60th anniversary on March 1 of this year - you can visit its website at The Peace Corps.

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