Fifty years ago, then-presidential candidate John F. Kennedy encouraged University students to pursue international service opportunities in an unscripted speech delivered at 2 a.m. on the steps of the Michigan Union. This speech, along with the subsequent efforts of many Michigan students, ultimately led to the formation of the Peace Corps.

The organization ServiceWorld is harnessing this memory and aiming to take it a step forward by launching its International Service Declaration tonight as part of the University’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps. ServiceWorld representative Jack Sibley said the group chose to launch the petition in conjunction with the Peace Corps celebration because they wanted to begin circulation of their declaration in a similar atmosphere to the one in which the petition that started the Peace Corps circulated half a century ago.

ServiceWorld’s declaration is available for students and others to sign online and on campus this week, and highlights the value of international service. The petition states, among other things, that the signer is “ready to serve and support ServiceWorld’s bold agenda to expand volunteer opportunities for individuals internationally … to learn about global problems and help find more effective ways to solve them.”

Sibley, who is currently in Ann Arbor to help with ServiceWorld’s part in the University’s Peace Corps 50th anniversary celebration, said the organization’s main objective is to increase the number of Americans volunteering abroad each year. The ServiceWorld program sends volunteers to work on a variety of issues including health, agriculture, women’s rights, the environment and education.

“Our goal is to see the U.S. send 100,000 American volunteers abroad each year,” Sibley said in a phone interview.

ServiceWorld’s plan, according to Sibley, consists of four main efforts to increase volunteer participation abroad and to strengthen America’s international relations.

These efforts include doubling the number of participants in the Peace Corps, expanding the Volunteers for Prosperity program, creating shorter-duration service fellowships and establishing an international social innovation fund.

In a promotional video, the organization said that if it achieves these ambitious aspirations, it can reach its goal of sending 100,000 volunteers abroad from a plethora of different programs.

“Fifty years ago the only real way for volunteers to go abroad was through the Peace Corps,” Sibley said. “Now many, many multi-national corporations are involved.”

Representatives for ServiceWorld will be promoting the declaration at various Peace Corps anniversary events, including the national and student symposiums on Oct. 13 and 14 as well as during tonight’s 2 a.m. celebration on the Michigan Union steps that aims to celebrate Kennedy’s original call to students. ServiceWorld’s declaration is also available on its website.

“It’s a call for expansion and a new strategy of international service,” Sibley said. “We really want to get individuals to sign supporting the agenda to send more people abroad each year. It’s a better way of showing the world the American people. It’s a great diplomatic way to do it.”

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