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What Obama Should Say in the State of the Union

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Dear President Obama,

In a few days, you'll undertake a solemn constitutional obligation when you give your annual State of the Union address to Congress. It's an important speech, and I'm sure you have a lot of major issues you'll want to discuss.

So I'll make my request simple: Please say a few words about the Peace Corps. This year, we'll be celebrating its 50th anniversary and it seems only appropriate that you mark the occasion and recognize the 200,000 who have served and the 8,600 who are currently serving in your address.

As president of the National Peace Corps Association, I have paid close attention to the State of the Union addresses over the years to see how the Peace Corps program has fared. All in all, it's done pretty well.

Since President Kennedy's 1961 State of the Union, in which he proposed the formation of the Peace Corps, it's been mentioned in 10 addresses to Congress. That's about one out of every five speeches.

In fact, few programs have gotten as much support from presidents of both parties in the State of the Union. Aside from President Kennedy, four other Presidents have spoken of the Peace Corps in their States of the Union. And what Presidents Johnsons, Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush had to say has been very appropriate and positive.

President Kennedy, who mentioned the Peace Corps in every one of his State of the Union addresses, said it was "a glimpse of the best that is in our country" and argued that "nothing carries the spirit of this American idealism more effectively to the far corners of the earth."

President Reagan stated that Peace Corps volunteers were part of "a powerful new current from an old and honorable tradition -- American generosity."

And President Clinton said they were an example of the fact that when "people of all races and backgrounds come together in a shared endeavor and get a fair chance, we do just fine."

Now, I recognize that you have a lot of important things to talk about, from the budget deficit to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the recent tragedy in Arizona, so we don't expect that you'll have time to go into too much detail about the Peace Corps.

That's ok. There will be other occasions for that, such as the March 1st anniversary of the signing of the executive order creating the Peace Corps. But there's a very good reason why the Peace Corps has been such a popular grace program among your predecessors: it represents America at its best.

Peace Corps volunteers who give of their time and talent offer a gift that gives back. They foster much greater understanding of other peoples and cultures, in ways that benefit our country directly. They have a positive developmental impact on thousands of communities overseas. In many cases, these volunteer experiences lead to ongoing connections between the volunteers and the individuals and communities they serve. These volunteers help shape positive on attitudes about the United States.

For example, the 2009 Terror Free Tomorrow Poll provided evidence of a positive shift in attitudes in important Muslim countries, such as Indonesia and Pakistan, following voluntary humanitarian assistance efforts after the tsunami and earthquake.

While you have addressed the Peace Corps in other occasions, I know it didn't come up in your first address to Congress or in last year's State of the Union.

That's why next week's State of the Union is a great opportunity to build upon your earlier addresses in which you have so eloquently highlighted the Peace Corps and its values of service and understanding.

Many will be watching with their children. For those youngest viewers, hearing their president talk about the importance of the Peace Corps may plant a seed that leads to service down the road.

And finally there's the audience right in front of you. The 535 members of Congress will have a major say in whether you can honor your campaign promise to double the size of the Peace Corps.

If during the State of the Union, these members of Congress hear directly from you that the Peace Corps is a invaluable program, they will be much more likely to recognize the current and former volunteers serve our nation in invaluable ways -- and that the Peace Corps growth should be supported as an effective program working for a more peaceful and prosperous world, especially during its golden anniversary year.

Kevin F. F. Quigley (Thailand 76-79) is president of the National Peace Corps Association, the nation's leading nonprofit organization supporting Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and the Peace Corps Community. To learn more, visit: www.peacecorpsconnect.org