Joseph P. Kennedy III Urges Young People To Act Locally, And Globally

by Alan Pollock

            HARWICH — The grand-nephew of President John F. Kennedy, the man who established the Peace Corps, urged Harwich High School students this week to serve their community—locally and globally—by volunteering. 

            Joseph P. Kennedy III, the son of former Congressman Joseph Kennedy II and the grandson of Robert Kennedy, said young people can serve overseas in the Peace Corps, or in their own neighborhoods.  He visited the school at the invitation of Congressman William Delahunt, who is promoting renewed interest in the Peace Corps.

            A third-year student at Harvard Law School, Kennedy continues his family’s tradition of public service; he works for a pro-bono law firm helping Boston area families avoid foreclosure, and helped design and teach a program for at-risk youth in Jamaica Plain.  He has also worked as an anti-poverty consultant for the government of East Timor.  Before attending law school, Kennedy served in the Peace Corps in the Dominican Republic from 2004 to 2006.

            Kennedy said his biggest challenge was to develop a rapport with the Dominicans among whom he was living.  He tried to share in our joint national pastimes—baseball—by joining a softball team, but couldn’t keep up with the other players; he tried visiting with poor families from the most impoverished neighborhoods, but found that his red hair terrified the children, who thought he was a witch.  Kennedy hit a lucky break when the local Dominicans were wowed by a novelty he had brought with him: s’mores.  It was ultimately marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers, together with time and perseverance, that opened his dialogue with the locals.

            The poverty in parts of the Dominican Republic is no laughing matter.  In one town, local men earned 10 cents a day literally carrying tourists on their backs up a rocky cliff to catch a glimpse of waterfalls.  Though the tour companies made plenty of money, the employees remained in poverty.

            “We basically created a union,” Kennedy told the students.  The workers received much higher wages, and a portion of their revenues were reserved for environmental projects and community development efforts.  Revenues increased for the workers and the tour companies alike, he said.

            As President Kennedy did in 1961, President Obama this year challenged America’s young people to improve their country and their word through volunteer service.  Under current plans, the Peace Corps would be expanded, as would AmeriCorps.  Obama’s plan calls for the creation of the Edward M. Kennedy National Service Act, a bill that encourages service by providing young volunteers with college tuition breaks.  But local high school students shouldn’t wait for an invitation to get involved, Kennedy said.

            By taking on community service projects, young people on Cape Cod can not only accomplish good things here, but can inspire visitors to the Cape to start projects in their own hometowns, Kennedy said. 

            “President Obama challenged us all to do what we can to make a difference,” he said.  Whether it’s becoming a mentor for an at-risk child, raising money for a worthy local cause, or cleaning up a local park, high school students can make a real difference in their own communities, he said.

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5/7/09

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