WASHINGTON – Peace Corps recruiter Nikki Maxwell said she has been working overtime to respond to heightened interest in her organization in the weeks since President Bush vowed to reinvigorate the corps.
Since the president’s State of the Union address, more than 10,000 people have contacted the Peace Corps to ask about volunteering. Officials with the Mid-Atlantic recruiting office said applications are up 16 percent this year over the same time last year.
Maxwell, a Peace Corps recruiter on Maryland college campuses, said students are responding to the president’s State of the Union call for greater volunteerism and are looking for ways to serve their country.
“A lot more people are thinking about how they can give back. It’s really good to see younger people with that mind set,” she said.
The president singled out the 40-year old organization as an opportunity to spread peace. “America needs to extend the compassion of our country to every part of the world. So we will renew the promise of the Peace Corps,” he said.
Bush also said during the speech that he would like to see the agency work more “to encourage development, education and opportunity in the Islamic world.”
Today, Peace Corps Volunteers serve in about eight predominantly Muslim countries and plan on returning to the three Central Asian republics that volunteers were evacuated from since the war in Afghanistan began. Peace Corps spokeswoman Ellen Field said the corps hopes to enter more Muslim countries, but must first be invited by those countries.
The president has asked for an additional $200 million for the Peace Corps spread over the next five years, enough to boost the agency’s funding by about 15 percent each year. The agency is budgeted to receive $275 million in fiscal 2002, and Bush has asked for $320 million next year.
The agency, which reached a high of 15,000 volunteers in 1966, now has about 7,000 volunteers worldwide. Bush said he hopes to return to 1966 levels in the next five years.
The day after his speech, Peace Corps web site traffic increased more than 300 percent and over 1,200 requests for applications were logged on that single day.
The University of Maryland’s Peace Corps representative, Elizabeth McGovern, said she now receives one or two calls a day from interested applicants, compared to one or two calls a week before. McGovern said more than half the students cite the president’s speech for sparking their interest.
“A lot of the students want to be a part of the solution to what’s going on in the world right now,” McGovern said.
Recruiters have seen an increased interest at campuses nationwide, including the University of Maryland, which is among the top 25 universities in number of graduates volunteering to go abroad for two years.
Once volunteers reach their host country, they work in programs to address business development, health and HIV/AIDS, the environment, education, agriculture and information technology.
Of the approximately 7,000 volunteers serving in 70 countries, 196 hail from Maryland. Since 1961, when President Kennedy established the Peace Corps, a total of 4,507 Marylanders have volunteered.
Besides the president’s drive for greater volunteerism, the events of Sept. 11 and the downturn in the economy have resulted in more applications, said Sarah Johnston. She is a spokeswoman for the Peace Corps’ regional recruiting office in Arlington, which includes Maryland.
Johnston said applications “are pouring in right now.”
“It’s certainly gotten crazier since the president’s speech. Crazier in a good way,” she said.