By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – If he had lived, President John F. Kennedy would be turning 100 years old at the end of this month.

I wonder what he would make of his country today.

And all month long the Kennedy Library in Dorchester is honoring Kennedy’s legacy with a string of events, including a focus on one of his signature initiatives – volunteerism.

“Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

That memorable line from his inaugural address and the creation of the Peace Corps a few weeks later inspired many young Americans to get involved with volunteer work.

Since then, the Peace Corps has sent more than 200,000 of us abroad to help others.

And there are plenty of reminders that the work goes on, with Habitat for Humanity, YouthBuild, City Year and AmeriCorps, in countless soup kitchens and food pantries, and a seemingly endless array of non-profit organizations.

But it turns out there are limits to volunteerism in our time.

The most recent federal statistics show a noticeable downturn in volunteerism rates over the past decade or so. Massachusetts ranks just 32nd among the states.

Why? Who knows?

Economic recessions take their toll; there are so many distractions. Maybe more people think, well, the government will take care of it.

But then you realize people caring for each other will never go out of style, something Kennedy would have been gratified to see.

  1. Lack of leadership has to be one of the causes of the drop-off, Jon. We haven’t had a real leader since Reagan, and briefly after Sept 11th, George W. Bush.

    I note that Obama spent little time or effort in promoting volunteerism for the benefit of the wider community, no matter how that community was positioned ideologically.

    But to the broader point in you hero worship of John Kennedy, he is more widely noted for the fact that he was murdered than for any legislative or foreign policy that he implemented.

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