University of Vermont

Vermont Quarterly

Vermont’s esprit de Peace Corps

Peace corps symbol with Bicknell's thrush
Illustration by Grace Weaver '11

The Green / Service

Vermont’s esprit de Peace Corps

On August 16, Aaron S. Williams, director of the Peace Corps, and Sen. Patrick Leahy, gathered at UVM’s Henderson Cafe in the Davis Center to celebrate what Leahy called “the extraordinary partnership between Vermont and the Peace Corps.” Leahy is chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on Department of State and Foreign Operations, which handles the Senate’s annual budget bills for foreign operations, including the Peace Corps. “If the mission (of the Peace Corps) was relevant back when JFK was president—and it was—it’s even more relevant today,” Leahy said.

Williams, himself a former Peace Corps volunteer, spoke about a sometimes overlooked third goal of the organization: for volunteers to make a difference when they return home. In addition to the handful of audience members who affirmed their service as volunteers, he congratulated two Vermonters in attendance, John William Meyer of Shelburne, a 2010 Middlebury College graduate who recently completed his service as a youth development volunteer in Peru, and UVM doctoral student Charles Kerchner of Burlington, who served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic from 2001-2003.

Kerchner took to the podium to outline his “Two Worlds—One Bird” project, an alliance he founded to protect endangered rainforest in the Caribbean and save the threatened Bicknell’s Thrush, a songbird that migrates from Vermont and the northeast to the Dominican and Haiti. Using his Peace Corps background as an agro-forestry specialist, Kerchner imports organic cacao from the Dominican to manufacture Kerchner Artisan Chocolate in Vermont. The business partnership helps the cacao farmers to improve earnings while conserving land in the rainforest canopy to protect the thrush and other migratory songbirds.

His work received initial funding through small donations at the Henderson Café cash register about five years ago, an amount leveraged to $1.25 million as the project has grown in the years since. Kerchner spoke of his work with Bicknell’s Thrush as symbolic of the goals of the Peace Corps, one that celebrates the “shared values and morals between countries” and showcases the “compounding impact” of serving in the Corps.

Vermont is nationally ranked on the 2011 Peace Corps Top State list for per-capita volunteer production with forty-seven currently serving Peace Corps volunteers. Historically, Vermont has produced 1,422 Peace Corps volunteers who have helped promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of the 139 countries in which they have served. 

The University of Vermont ranks No. 5 on the 2012 top Peace Corps volunteer-producing colleges and universities in the medium-size category with forty-two undergraduate alumni currently serving overseas. Since the agency was founded in 1961, 801 UVM alumni have served in the Peace Corps.

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