Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet honored Chicago native Manuel Colon and five other returned Peace Corps volunteers with the Franklin H. Williams award on Wednesday, Oct. 8, during a ceremony at Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C. The award recognizes returned Peace Corps volunteers from ethnically diverse backgrounds who exemplify an ongoing commitment to community service and Peace Corps' Third Goal of promoting a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
"In memory of Franklin H. Williams, we honor some of the brightest stars in our Peace Corps family who are incredible champions of our mission at a time when the Peace Corps has never mattered more," Hessler-Radelet said. "These extraordinary individuals embody what the Peace Corps is all about a lifelong commitment to service, social justice and cross-cultural understanding."
As an environmental education Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay from 2010-12, Colon"n carried out sustainable tourism development work, youth group education, and cultural exchange activities. His most successful project was a national environmental youth group workshop conference called "Paraguay Verde," which fostered youth interest in environmental stewardship and is now in its fifth iteration with current volunteers in Paraguay.
But for Colon, Peace Corps service was about more than gaining skills and helping others overseas it was about sharing his experience with people back home and inspiring others to consider making a difference. Even while he was still a volunteer in Paraguay, Colon kept in touch with friends and family and used Skype to chat with prospective applicants at a recruitment event. While home on leave during his two-year service, he was the featured speaker at a 200-guest send-off event for new volunteers in Chicago.
"I'm beyond honored to be a 2014 Franklin H. Williams award recipient," Colon said. "As I explain the three goals of Peace Corps to people, it's very clear that the first two are constrained to your 27 months abroad, while in service. The beauty of Third Goal is that every volunteer, at any and all stages in their life post-service, can engage in it."
Now pursuing his Master of Education in Human Resources Development and working as an Undergraduate Recruiter at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Colon continues to assist with Peace Corps recruitment there. ( He also earned his bachelor's degree in natural resources and environmental science from Illinois in 2010. )
As the New Volunteer Coordinator for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Returned Peace Corps Volunteers association, he works closely with Peace Corps' Office of Diversity and National Outreach to engage prospective, current, and returned volunteers, in addition to promoting recruitment and Third Goal activities to the Queer community through the group's social media.
Both in his everyday life and while working, Colon never misses an opportunity to share his personal Peace Corps story with diverse audiences. At his alma mater high school, Whitney Young in Chicago, Colon recently spoke to students about the way Peace Corps could, one day, transform their lives, as it has transformed his. In the summertime, he enjoys drinking terere ( Paraguayan iced tea ) and listening to music from Paraguay, sharing the country's culture with his friends and co-workers in the U.S. This year he waved the Peace Corps flag at multiple Pride events, inspiring countless LGBTQ Americans to serve.
Colon's commitment to bettering his world also extends beyond Peace Corps' Third Goal. He currently volunteers with the University's Intensive English Institute as a conversation partner, helping students from South Korea and Saudi Arabia improve their English and learn more about American culture. "The parallels to Peace Corps pre-service training are so strong, so I'm glad I can give back to visitors to our country the same way I was so warmly received by the people of Paraguay," Colon said.
About the Franklin H. Williams Award: Franklin H. Williams was an early architect of the Peace Corps. He worked at the agency from its inception in 1961 to 1963 and helped Sargent Shriver, the first Peace Corps director, to promote the agency and its programs to the world. Williams' exceptional public service career included positions as Peace Corps Regional Director for Africa, U.S. Representative to the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and U.S. Ambassador to Ghana. Since the first Franklin H. Williams award ceremony in 1999, 107 outstanding returned Peace Corps volunteers have received the award. For more information on the award and bios for all awardees, please visit:www.peacecorps.gov/resources/returned/staycon/williamsaward/ .