Peace Corps aims to overhaul recruitment

Dropoff in applicants is endandering JFK-inspired plan for volunteer work overseas

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WASHINGTON — The Peace Corps, formed more than 50 years ago to send Amer­i­cans abroad to per­form good works, is amid its most se­ri­ous chal­lenge, with the num­ber of ap­pli­cants fall­ing rap­idly, leav­ing the vol­un­teer force at its low­est level in more than a de­cade.

Rec­og­niz­ing that the or­ga­ni­za­tion en­vi­sioned by Pres­i­dent John F. Ken­nedy could be en­dan­gered, its lead­ers are sched­uled to an­nounce to­day a se­ries of steps to make it more at­trac­tive, in­clud­ing al­low­ing can­di­dates to choose the coun­try where they want to serve, short­en­ing the year-long ap­pli­ca­tion pe­riod and re­cruit­ing more mi­nor­i­ties and young peo­ple.

“The Peace Corps is a great brand, but we re­ally needed to bring it into the 21st cen­tury,” or­ga­ni­za­tion di­rec­tor Car­rie Hessler-Radelet said ahead of the an­nounce­ment. “This is the most ex­ten­sive re­form ef­fort our agency has ever un­der­taken.”

The fed­eral agency, which has a $379 mil­lion an­nual bud­get and sends thou­sands of vol­un­teers to more than 65 coun­tries to con­duct two-year ser­vice proj­ects, at times has tan­gled its ap­pli­cants in red tape.

In in­ter­views, Peace Corps alumni de­scribed wait­ing on av­er­age more than a year be­fore be­ing ac­cepted. Some have called the anx­i­ety they felt “rest­less ap­pli­cant syn­drome.” Under the new guide­lines, the steps could be com­pleted in six months.

“Our for­mer pro­cess was long and bu­reau­cratic and cum­ber­some,” Ms. Hessler-Radelet said. “We feel that to­day’s ap­pli­cants have ca­reer goals and have pro­fes­sional goals, and they have strong opin­ions about where they want to serve. .... We want to honor that as best we can.”

The Peace Corps will hope to avoid leav­ing po­ten­tial vol­un­teers in limbo, part of a pack­age of changes that of­fi­cials think will make the or­ga­ni­za­tion more ap­peal­ing to the na­tion’s un­der-30 crowd.

In the past nine months, more than 30,000 po­ten­tial can­di­dates did not com­plete their ap­pli­ca­tions, ac­cord­ing to the Peace Corps. The num­ber of can­di­dates who have fin­ished them have dropped from a peak of 15,384 in fis­cal 2009 to 10,118 in fis­cal 2013, a de­cline of 34 per­cent. The agency’s re­cruit­ing pros­pects suf­fered set­backs af­ter sev­eral vol­un­teers came for­ward with har­row­ing ac­counts of sex­ual as­saults in their host coun­tries.

Ms. Hessler-Radelet said she hopes that the im­prove­ments will en­cour­age more peo­ple to ap­ply and boost the agency’s num­ber of vol­un­teers, es­pe­cially among mi­nor­i­ties. Of the 7,200 vol­un­teers cur­rently de­ployed, whites make up 76 per­cent; blacks, 6 per­cent; His­pan­ics, 9 per­cent; and Asians, 5 per­cent.

Pro­posed when Mr. Ken­nedy was a Mas­sa­chu­setts sen­a­tor run­ning for pres­i­dent, the Peace Corps of­fi­cially be­came an agency in 1961 and emerged as a pre­mier des­ti­na­tion for young Amer­i­cans seek­ing to vol­un­teer and ex­pe­ri­ence the ad­ven­ture of life in a for­eign coun­try. Since then, more than 215,000 U.S. cit­i­zens have served.

West Africa - Africa - Chris Matthews - Christopher Dodd - Peace Corps


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