Then-Sen. John F. Kennedy speaks to a group of students at the University of Michigan during a campaign stop on Oct. 14, 1960, when he proposed the U.S. Peace Corps. (Frederick L. Shippey/Courtesy of U.S. Peace Corps)

The U.S. Peace Corps last year saw its applications reach a 40-year high in response to an initiative to revitalize the overseas service organization.

About 23,000 Americans volunteered to serve in the Peace Corps in fiscal 2015, a 32 percent increase from the year before; applications have more than doubled since 2013.

Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radelet plans to announce the record number of applicants Wednesday at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. There, on the steps of the Michigan Union 55 years ago, then-
presidential candidate John F. Kennedy first proposed sending U.S. volunteers to developing countries to perform good works. In March 1961, Kennedy signed an executive order establishing the Peace Corps.

“What these application numbers tell us is that Americans today are as passionate about service as they have ever been, and that they are clamoring
for the opportunity to make sustainable change in communities around the world,” Hessler-
Radelet said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Today’s Americans, from all walks of life, are ready to put their skills to work making a difference, and when given the opportunity to make their mark on the world, they will raise their hands to serve in record numbers.”

With an annual budget of $379 million, the Peace Corps allows volunteers to serve two-year appointments overseas, taking on such projects as building restrooms in Senegalese elementary schools, helping beekeepers in Ghana improve honey production or bicycling across Togo teaching healthful eating habits to villagers.

The renewed interest in the Peace Corps comes after the organization made extensive changes to its application process, allowing volunteers to pick their favorites from among 65 countries or select a specialization once they’ve deployed.

The streamlined application also meant that candidates could submit their packages in about an hour, down from the eight hours or so it took before.

The result has been a surge in volunteers. In fiscal 2013, the Peace Corps received 10,118 applications as the agency struggled to add to its ranks. Last year, the number of applications rose to its highest level since 1975.

Since its inception, the Peace Corps has sent close to 220,000 volunteers to 140 countries, including far-flung locales as diverse as Madagascar and Macedonia, to participate in projects to improve education, public health, economic development, agriculture and the environment.

The Peace Corps roster of alumni includes former senator Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), MSNBC pundit Chris Matthews and Hessler-Radelet, who served on the South Pacific island of Western Samoa from 1981 to 1983.

Then-Sen. John F. Kennedy speaks to a group of students at the University of Michigan on Oct. 14, 1960. (Photograph by Frederick L. Shippey in the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston; photo courtesy of U.S. Peace Corps.) (Frederick L. Shippey/Courtesy of U.S. Peace Corps)

“The goal of our application reforms was to break down barriers to service for a new generation of Americans who are interested in not just imagining a better world but rolling up their sleeves and doing something about it, and the response has been astounding,” Hessler-Radelet said.