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Century Spotlight: Sargent Shriver

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Century Spotlight: Sargent Shriver

Sargent Shriver (1915 – 2011) was one of the architects of our modern society, a dedicated public servant who founded many of the organizations that make the U.S. a successful and compassionate country. President Barack Obama called him "one of the brightest lights of the greatest generation," and it was no exaggeration. Working largely behind the scenes, the Kennedy in-law – who was the longtime husband of Eunice Kennedy, President John F. Kennedy's sister – did monumental things. Now, 100 years after his birth, we're remembering some of Shriver's greatest achievements:

1. Peace Corps. This iconic organization was the brainchild of President Kennedy, who conceived the idea while he was still a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Ten years later, as president, he was able to put his plan into action, and he tapped Shriver as its first director. It was up to Shriver and his team to flesh out Kennedy's broad plan for a volunteer organization dedicated to promoting world peace through overseas service. In five years as director, Shriver built the Peace Corps from a small startup to a major organization with more than 14,000 volunteers in 55 countries. The organization they created is still active today, working to promote conservation, education and health while encouraging self-reliance in developing areas.

2. Job Corps. When Kennedy's successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson, took office, he declared that American would wage a "War on Poverty." Drawing on Shriver's leadership experience, Johnson named him the initiative's "salesman," giving him plenty of room to shape the ways the government would attempt to lower the national poverty rate. Among the programs Shriver created was Job Corps, which offers free education and vocational training to low-income young people. Job Corps remains successful today, training people for careers in fields including health care, information technology, automotive repair and finance.

3. Head Start. Job Corps was helping young people after they turned 16, but Johnson's War on Poverty needed another program to give low-income children a boost even earlier. Head Start was the answer, developed by Shriver and designed to help children from birth to kindergarten. The preschool program, still active today, fosters education, health and nutrition in children while allowing their parents extra freedom to work. The program also encourages parent involvement with their children's education and development.

Though Shriver had political ambitions that didn't pan out – he ran failed bids for vice president in 1972 and president in 1976 – he was still able to serve his country in deeply meaningful ways. Those three flagship programs are just a few of Shriver's successes. Others include the creation of Volunteers in Service to America, or VISTA, and Upward Bound; leadership in Special Olympics, founded by his wife; and service as U.S. ambassador to France. His legacy continues with his children, including journalist and activist Maria Shriver.