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National Service Part of JFK's Legacy

by Greg Tucker

President and Mrs. Kennedy arrive at Love Field in Dallas, TX, on November, 22, 1963. (Photo by Cecil Stoughton. White House Photographs. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston)

Today Americans are remembering the legacy of President John F. Kennedy on the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Many in the national service family were inspired by his life, and his legacy lives on through AmeriCorps VISTA, one of the anti-poverty programs he envisioned before his untimely death.

In 1963, President Kennedy called for a national service corps “to help provide urgently needed services in urban and rural poverty areas.” Less than two years later, President Lyndon B. Johnson realized Kennedy's dream through The Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 which spawned VISTA and other lasting antipoverty programs such as Head Start to serve the needs of the poorest Americans.

We’ve assembled some remembrances of JFK, his legacy, and their meaning to those who participate in national service.

Sen. Harris Wofford, an advisor to President Kennedy and CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service from 1995 to 2001. Sen. Wofford recalls his memories of hearing about JFK’s death in this interview.

Lindsey Zemler, AmeriCorps member, quoted in Kennedy’s idealism not lost on today’s youngThe Chronicle Express (New York) 

With AmeriCorps — which some call a domestic version of Kennedy’s Peace Corps — “there’s an element of lifestyle choice. I think we are seeing it as way to engage as a citizen,” she said. “For me, it’s not just a year of service. It fits into a much bigger picture of how I see my future. And I don’t see my career as being separate from my lifestyle. I see it as intertwined.”

Heather McCool, AmeriCorps VISTA serving at the New Kensington Community Development Corporation in Philadelphia. McCool speaks about JFK’s connection to the program during a radio interview with WHYY.

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