08/04/2011 01:14 pm ET Updated Oct 04, 2011

Don't Miss the Largest Event to Honor Five Decades of the Peace Corps

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer halfway around the world, you may find yourself the only
American in a small village working on a project. At times, you may even be the only outsider.

That is part of the challenge, of course. Finding the strength within yourself to overcome the
obstacles and learning to make friends with people from a vastly different culture -- these are
the very reasons why Volunteers sign up in the first place.

But then, just when you've found your niche, made friends and made a difference, you come
home. Your old friends can't relate to stories about your time overseas and you may even have
picked up some new culinary tastes or words that mystify them.

That's where the National Peace Corps Association steps in. Since 1979, we've been connecting
Returned Peace Corps Volunteers with each other to keep the adventurous spirit alive and find
ways to connect their time abroad with their new life back home.

It's not always easy. Even Peace Corps Volunteers who served in the same country at the same
time may have had vastly different experiences. But once the ice is broken, former Volunteers
often find that they have a deeper connection -- one based on the willingness to take on such
tough assignment. While many people wistfully talk about joining the program, Peace Corps
Volunteers got on that plane.

As we honor the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary this year, we've had a number of events to
celebrate. At the recent Smithsonian Folklife Festival, I found myself shuttling back and forth,
introducing Volunteers who served in the same country.

"Where did you serve?" "What years?" Within moments, they were happily chatting away about
their time in the Peace Corps.

Next month, we'll hold the largest event to celebrate the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary -- a gala
at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington on September
24, 2011. There will be live entertainment, award presentations and special guests like Chris
Matthews, host of MSNBC's Hardball and a former volunteer who served in Swaziland.

More than 900 people are expected to attend the "Promise of the Peace Corps Gala," including former volunteers old and new. Many of them may not know each other, but they'll have
similar experiences from their time in the Peace Corps (or even just being married to a former
volunteer). Supporters of the Peace Corps from host countries around the world will also be in

All proceeds will help fund the anniversary events that we'll be hosting that week, which are free
and open to the public.

Supporters who cannot attend the gala are encouraged to donate a ticket to allow a recently
returned or serving volunteer to attend, which is a wonderful way to pass along the legacy of the
Peace Corps.

All are invited to attend and dress in either formal evening wear or attire from their home or host
country. We'll be honoring Peace Corps' five decades of service while glimpsing into the future
and seeing its impact over the next fifty years. Hope to see you there!

To purchase your gala tickets online, go to:

For a list of free events in September to celebrate the Peace Corps' 50th anniversary, go to:

Erica Burman is the director of communications for the National Peace Corps Association, the
nation's leading 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization supporting Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
and the Peace Corps community. To learn more, visit: