Proceeds from the 20th-anniversary celebration for VISTA went to Friends of VISTA, a bipartisan, nonprofit organization. A report in Wednesday's Style section incorrectly said funds raised at the event would go to VISTA itself.
Testimonials rang high and support for the Reagan administration was notably low at the 20th anniversary celebration for VISTA (Volunteers In Service To America) last night as more than 500 people crowded under the back-yard tent at the home of Eunice and Sargent Shriver.
"Sarge Shriver and I used to have a competition about who would become ambassador to China first," Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) reminisced. "Then it all changed. I went to do work with VISTA and it was in West Virginia. I fell in love with West Virginia and I stayed."
Rockefeller, who began his association with that state as a VISTA volunteer in 1964, testified yesterday before a House committee on behalf of the antipoverty program, often described as a domestic Peace Corps. "We have to fight for funding," he said. "We just want to keep it going until times are better."
Guests jammed together in the tent as waiters tried to pass by. After everyone had had a chance to line up for the buffet, several senators entered the garden just in time for the speech-making. Among those giving brief talks were former senator Jacob Javits, Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.), Rockefeller, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.). Shriver served as the moderator.
Following the speeches, Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary sang and played guitar and members of Congress auctioned off crafts, including two large quilts, and a poster autographed by actor Dustin Hoffman. The auction raised about $3,000 and the night raised more than $30,000 for VISTA.
"When President Kennedy talked about what we can do for our country, I like to think it was the VISTA program that carried it out," Ted Kennedy told the crowd.
Javits, whose eldest daughter was a VISTA volunteer, said, "I think VISTA and the Peace Corps are the finest expression of the American spirit. So long as that spirit pervades in America, the country will be safe and secure."
According to Mimi Mager, executive director of Friends of VISTA, the group that sponsored the party, the agency's budget before the Reagan administration was $34 million; it is now $17 million. There are currently 2,400 volunteers in the program, she said, while there were 4,700 before President Reagan took office.
Tom Blanton, who was involved with the Friends of VISTA and now works for Villers Foundation, said, "There have been five directors of VISTA since Reagan, and each one promised to get rid of the program."
Mager added, "No political appointees are here, though they were all invited . . . I find it ironic that former directors came literally from across the country and the current director won't even attend."
Jane Holland, who helped migrant workers in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1973-74, was one of the former volunteers who had paid $40 to celebrate VISTA's anniversary. "VISTA really made me what I am today, the type of person I am."