The good news is that this is possible. While nearly 7,000 Americans serving in some 60 countries came home in 2020, the 240,000 Americans who served since the agency’s founding in 1961 didn’t sit still. We organized, drew on the knowledge and experience of the community, and produced a comprehensive set of recommendations for how the Peace Corps could return to the field to meet the needs of a changed world.

Our community’s voices were organized by our returned volunteer membership organization — National Peace Corps Association — to ensure that America’s most iconic service agency lives up to President Kennedy’s grand vision of bringing the world together in peace. This vision is more urgent today due to global threats we all face, from the pandemic to climate change to the retreat of democracy around the world.

I know firsthand about the importance of the Peace Corps and of the impact we can have. In Iran I worked with a team of Iranians on an agricultural project to control erosion on watersheds that provided vital water resources. I also developed a farm to produce grass seed for revegetation of eroded land as well as a “how to” manual on grass seed production for the Ministry of Natural Resources. I grew up on a farm in Eastern Oregon where we grew grass seed.

As March 1 marks the anniversary of President Kennedy’s 1961 executive order establishing the Peace Corps, volunteers will soon return to service overseas. At least 24 countries have met revised health, safety and security standards for volunteers to return, while more nations are close to meeting those standards.

We have also seen Washington take to heart the views of the Peace Corps community. Reforms to programs are being adopted. New ideas about incorporating racial justice and equity into agency activities are being advanced.

Yet more needs to be done. The first step toward completing an overhaul of Peace Corps operations is new authorizing legislation. The Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1456) includes provisions to improve in-service and post-service training, care, benefits and opportunities for the volunteers.

As volunteers return to the field, battling COVID will be a significant part of their work. In October 2021 testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Acting Director Carol Spahn said: “The Peace Corps is committed to playing a critical role in global COVID-19 response and recovery by returning Volunteers to work in partnership with underserved communities around the world.”

Climate change is also a priority. Countries where volunteers serve are feeling some of the most damaging effects of climate change, and Peace Corps will be partnering with communities across sectors.

While it’s been more than 20 years since Congress reauthorized the original Peace Corps Act, last September Democrats and Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee came together and passed H.R. 1456 by a vote of 44 to 4. The rest of the Congress should follow their lead.

Now is the time for action, as volunteers again prepare for service. Urge Rep. Kevin McCarthy to pass the Peace Corps Reauthorization Act (H.R. 1456) in the House as soon as possible. Please also urge Senators Dianne Feinstein and Alex Padilla to actively join the House in supporting bipartisan passage of this legislation, an important step toward deepening our nation’s commitment to service and our nation’s highest ideals.