Rutgers University Commemorates
President Kennedy’s First Peace Corps Volunteers - Colombia I
November 5, 2010

Dr. Robert McCormick, the President of Rutgers University, and Carrie Hessler-Radelet, the Deputy Director of the Peace Corps, will unveil a commemorative plaque to honor President Kennedy and the 62 members of Colombia I, the First Peace Corps Volunteers to go to Training. The event will take place at 11:00 AM at the Darien Quad, Hegeman Hall on the Queen’s campus of Rutgers University.

Campaigning for the Presidency in 1960, John F. Kennedy offered Americans a vision and a challenge. He called it the “New Frontier” and asked Americans to make a choice “between the public interest and the private comfort . . .” Of all his initiatives, the one that most fully embraced this challenge was the Peace Corps.

The Peace Corps began with an Executive Order on March 1, 1961 and less than three months later, on June 25th, a group of young men arrived at Rutgers to begin training. The following day, the first Director of the Peace Corps, R. Sargent Shriver, and President Kennedy’s brother-in- law, addressed the Volunteers who were assembled on wooden bleachers in the Darien quadrangle.

The Colombia I program was managed by CARE, the international food relief and development agency. The training at Rutgers lasted two months and included more than 60 hours a week of lectures, discussion and study. Before their departure, the 62 young men met with President Kennedy at the White House.  

In Colombia, the Volunteers lived in rural towns and villages. They worked in a new national program - Acción Comunal - designed to promote local participation in development. In 1961 Acción Comunal had a small staff, a small budget and few projects. The Volunteers worked with counterparts from Acción Comunal and from the Colombian Federation of Coffee Growers. The local press referred to them as “Kennedy’s Children” and relentlessly wrote about their contributions to community development.

The projects completed by Volunteers and their Colombian partners includes 44 schools, 65 classrooms, 29 rural roads, 27 aqueducts, four health centers, 26 cooperatives, 100 sport fields and several hundred latrines. According to Ronald A. Schwarz, an anthropologist writing a book about the group (”Kennedy’s Orphans”), “The most important contribution of Colombia I was in helping to transform an embryonic Colombian agency into a national development organization, one that still exists.”

CONTACT: Colombia I Publicity Chair
Dennis Grubb
1245 Fourth Street , SW
Washington, D.C.
202 241 2520
202 683-0079 (Mobile)