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Sunday, January 23, 2011

A salute to “Sarge”

When Sargent Shriver moved from inventing and building the Peace Corps to heading up President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, the poverty rate in the US was 19%. In 12 years, between 1966 and 1974, poverty had dropped to 11% -- almost to half the previous rate. Oh, and today it’s 30%.

It’s hard to grasp both the speed of the changes that Shriver helped create, and the fact that we lost the “War on Poverty” after that kind of amazing success.

Shriver was buried yesterdayy, and I was in tears as I listened to the Fresh Air interview on NPR. My first job out of college was with the Office of Economic Opportunity, the agency Shriver established to implement programs such as HeadStart, Community Health Centers, Job Corps and VISTA.

There could not have been a better place for a freshly graduated, directionless and idealistic person to work. The OEO folks were serious, learned, overworked, thrilled, funny, dedicated, eclectic and all on fire with the mission to get this thing done: re-think all the things that keep poor people poor, find ways to inspire change and move on to the next impossible thing.

It threatened the heck out of lots of the guardians of the status quo. But it worked.

I was privileged and honored to have been a part of the programs Sargent Shriver built. I hope that his passing, and the reminder of what he achieved, can re-ignite that spark of idealism and belief in positive change. Thanks, Sarge!

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