What makes a President Cry?

“People are more alike than they are different”. That was the bit of wisdom delivered by this year’s winner of the Lillian Carter award which honors Peace Corps volunteers who started their service after age 50. “Miss Lillian” Carter joined the Peace Corps in her sixties and volunteered in India. At today’s reception honoring this year’s honoree, President Carter reflected on not only the work of his mother, but that of the other returned Peace Corps volunteers in the room.

The former President told the story of how his mom worked for a family in India. The father used to give Miss Lillian fresh vegetables. “Miss” Lillian had no way to pay for the produce so she taught his daughter English.

President Carter, who has been active in Habitat for Humanity since leaving the White House went back to India last year and met that girl. The former President, his emotions showing, explained that that girls is now the President of a University and had earned her PhD. Yes, the Peace Corps does make a difference and his mother made a difference. And even Presidents are more like the rest of us than they are different when telling stories about their mother.
Perhaps the highlight of the ceremony was a performance by a African Drum group, the Burundi Drummers and Dancers of Atlanta.

These kids were just terrific and they got a standing ovation from the crowd of former Peace Corps volunteers and guests.

Today was a great day for me. It was gratifying to not only hear the stories about Miss Lillian but also those of the current director of the Peace Corps, Ron Tshetter and Shirley Maly, the woman honored at today’s event. I had a chance to talk with several returned Peace Corps Volunteers and I have no doubt that I am about to embark on one of the greatest adventures of my life. I hope I live up to the build-up that I’ve gotten so far from not just the Peace Corps but my friends and family.

Today I had my photo taken at the Carter Center and then was interviewed by a woman from the Peace Corps communication office. She asked me a lot of questions about the application process and what advice I would have for further mid-career applicants. (That’s PC-speak for people like me who are not at retirement age, but who have been working for a while.) The director of Peace Corps announced a new program today to get more baby-boomers to sign up.
President Carter was introduced by his grand-son, Jason Carter, who was also a Peace Corps volunteer. He’s written a book about his time in Africa. And President Carter’s sister has compiled a collection of Miss Lillian’s writing. I’m ordering both from Amazon.com when I get home.

The event generated a lot of media attention with several TV crews there and some print reporters. I made the Atlanta Journal Constitution this morning in a preview of the ceremony. Reading the article which appeared on Page One of the Local section, I wondered how I was going to be worked into the story. You can read that for yourself.

To those 50 and older: Peace Corps wants you

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/16/07

When Lillian Carter approached her children in 1966 about joining the Peace Corps, she expected some resistance. Carter was 68. The Peace Corps was in its infancy, and largely staffed by college-age kids looking to save the world at the time of the Vietnam War. "She was looking for something exciting to do," said Jimmy Carter, then a state senator. "Age was no barrier for her."Lillian Carter spent 21 months in the Peace Corps, working as a nurse in India treating lepers. She returned to America with 10 cents to her name and was so emotionally and physically drained that she had to be wheeled off the plane to Atlanta in a wheelchair. "It opened my eyes to the need in the developing world for better health care, when I was governor, president and now," Jimmy Carter said. "[The Carter Center has] programs in 71 nations. [Her experience] has affected my life profoundly."

This afternoon, the Peace Corps will honor the former president's mother, who died in 1983, by presenting the Lillian Carter Award in a ceremony at the Carter Center in Atlanta. Jimmy Carter and Peace Corps Director Ron Tschetter will present the award to Shirley Maly of Nebraska, who served in Uruguay from 1992 to 1995.
Established in 1986, the award is given every two years to a volunteer who was at least age 50 at the time of service. Tschetter said he also will use the ceremony to begin a campaign to recruit more people over 50. Only about 5 percent of the 7,749 Peace Corps volunteers are over 50. The average volunteer is 27 years old.
"We are putting a lot of new emphasis on trying to get the boomers," said Tschetter, 65, who in the 1960s volunteered with his wife, Nancy, in India. Tschetter said he wants 10 percent of volunteers to be older Americans and hopes to recruit up to 500 by next year. Tschetter said recruiting efforts will expand to retirement groups, like the AARP.

"They are the Kennedy people," he said. "They heard about Kennedy's call in the 1960s. But at the time, they thought, 'Wonderful, but I need a job.' Now, they are here, they are healthy, they have resources and they really have a heart to serve."
John F. Kennedy, during his 1960 inauguration, laid the groundwork for the Peace Corps with : "And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you —- ask what you can do for your country."

Established by a 1961 executive order, the Peace Corps was immediately popular, and by 1966 had 15,556 volunteers in more than 55 countries."The goals of 1961 are still the goals of today. To take a sustainable skill abroad and bring a better understanding of America," said Tschetter. "It is amazing, when you visit the villages, the work, the connections, the grass roots have not changed a lot."
Tschetter said 98 percent of volunteers are college graduates who serve in 73 countries. About 1,800 returned Peace Corps volunteers live in metro Atlanta. "It changes you drastically. You go from being kind of a playful college kid to being a serious person," said Jimmy Carter's grandson, Jason Carter, who volunteered in South Africa in 1998, a year after graduating from Duke University. "The Peace Corps settled me down."A lawyer in Atlanta, Jason Carter will host the event. My great-grandmother turned 70 in the Peace Corps," he said. "Her experience affected our whole family. It is one of the things that drives us."

Tschetter said a bulk of Peace Corps work involves HIV and AIDS. And with an ever-changing global political climate, safety is a top priority. "Sometimes we will leave [a country] for safety and security reasons," said Tschetter, speaking from Botswana.

Julia Campbell, 40, a former journalist, was killed in April in the Philippines. A resident has been charged with her murder. "Safety is our first, second and third priority," said Tschetter. He said despite safety concerns the Peace Corps still has three times more applicants than it can place. "Our volunteerism, application rate
and interest have actually gone up since 9/11. We are right around the 30-year high," he said. "The Peace Corps is very vibrant."

Back in 1966, Lillian Carter stressed that she wanted to go "to a country where the people were destitute, dark-skinned and needed help."As chronicled in "Away From Home: Letters to My Family" —- a book co-written by her daughter, Gloria Carter Spann —- Lillian Carter was sent to Vikhroli, a suburb of Mumbai [then known as
Bombay]. Carter said his mother, a registered nurse, initially worked in family planning, but soon began helping a doctor at a local clinic. "I was in the state Senate at the time, running for governor. I was able to contact some of the pharmaceutical companies and got free medicine to send over there," Carter recalled. "But the doctor was grossly overloaded and would treat between 200 to 300 people a day. She gave away all her money and food. She came back debilitated."

In 1980, Steve Hunsicker, a young radio reporter, interviewed Lillian Carter during the Democratic National Convention. They didn't discuss the Peace Corps, but Hunsicker knew of her work. He went on to enjoy a nice career, rising to news director at a television station in West Palm Beach, Fla. Then he quit. To join the Peace Corps. "I thought maybe this was the time to do this," said Hunsicker, 47, who plans to attend the ceremony. He said he will be assigned to the South Pacific to work in business development. "When I was 28, I knew some things. Clearly, I know a lot of things now," said Hunsicker. "I think I have a life experience and a maturity level that will serve me well."

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