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Former U.S. senator urges students to consider national service

Sen. Harris L. Wofford

A former United States senator who helped start the Peace Corps and who served as an adviser to President John F. Kennedy told Elon University students this month that volunteering their time and energy to helping others should be a lifelong habit.
Sen. Harris Wofford visited campus April 17 as part of the James P. Elder Lecture Series. His talk, “Citizen Service — To Crack the Atom of Civic Power,” was preceded earlier in the afternoon with a more intimate question-and-answer session attended by more than two dozen students and another dozen faculty and staff.

“I think we’re in for a real expansion of national part-time and full-time service opportunities across the country,” Wofford said. As Baby Boomers prepare to retire, he added, a large number of people will be looking for opportunities to volunteer in local, national and international programs, including things like Habitat for Humanity and the Peace Corps.

Students asked Wofford about the politics of national service opportunities. Some members of Congress have not always supported programs like AmeriCorps, he explained, though that attitude is changing. Service is not such a lightening rod issue.

“If ever there is a common ground idea, it is national service,” Wofford said. “It’s not a partisan issue.”

A national leader in community service, Wofford served as an advisor to Kennedy’s presidential campaign was later appointed to Kennedy’s staff as civil rights advisor. He was instrumental in the formation of the Peace Corps and subsequently served as associate director.

Wofford was a senator from Pennsylvania (1991-1995), president of two colleges and CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service (AmeriCorps, 1995-2001). He serves on the boards of several service organizations, including Project Pericles, America’s Promise, Youth Service America and the Points of Light Foundation.

During the question-and-answer period, students also asked about the ongoing presidential race, and what may be in store for whoever wins the White House in November.

Wofford, who has campaigned for Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama, said that no matter who wins, the next president will need to mend relationships with other cultures and countries alienated in recent years.

“We need to find a way to join the human race again … where we can join hands with friends around the world,” Wofford said.

Eric Townsend,
8/27/2008 3:12 PM