American Idealist recounts the life of Sargent Shriver and the legacy he left our country. During the 1960’s Shriver launched the Peace Corps, Volunteers In Service To America (VISTA), Head Start, Legal Services for the Poor, Community Action, Youth Corps, Job, Corps, Foster Grandparents, Work Study, and Neighborhood Health Clinics. These government programs laid the foundation for the public service movement in the United States today.

After viewing American Idealist you may want to explore the following questions:

  • 1.   What can we learn from the history of Shriver’s public service programs?
  • 2.   Why do we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a day of service?
    What are the connections between public service and Dr. King’s philosophy of non- violent social change?
  • 3.   What does public service have to do with building and maintaining a healthy democracy?
  • 4.   What lessons do you take away from American Idealist for your own public service work? Why are you involved in public service and what meaning does it have for your own life and community?

In his later years, Sargent Shriver turned Special Olympics into an international program as a way to promote peace and bring people together across national, cultural, and ethnic boundaries. “Just like all the programs he created,” states a commentator in the film, “you break down these hierarchies that seem to separate people from each other in some fundamental way and you create genuine interaction based on recognition of a common humanity that you see in others.” How does the public service work you perform break down barriers between people?