BURLINGTON -- From a tiny windowless office in a building at the corner of the University of Vermont green, Peace Corps recruiter Kelly Dolan helps send people to the farthest reaches of the globe where they will spend two years working on development projects as varied as community gardens in Central America, health education in Africa or business practices in eastern Europe.
The number of college-based Peace Corps recruiters is being reduced across the country and Dolan is the only campus-based Peace Corps recruiter left in New England, although she recruits from the community as well.
She speaks to classes, works with UVM’s study abroad and career services departments and just talks to people about the overseas service opportunity that grew out of the ideological vision of John F. Kennedy who challenged young people to spend two years working overseas when he was running for president in 1960.
It’s not a hard sell.
"One of the fortunate things about being a recruiter here is I don’t have to spend as much time explaining what the organization is because there is such a tradition of it within the state," said Dolan, who graduated from St. Michael’s College in Colchester and then served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala and Panama. "It’s been around so long and so many people have volunteered and so many people know about it."
On Wednesday, Peace Corps officials released their annual count of the states that produce the most volunteers.
Vermont ranked as the top state, per capita, in the production of volunteers. Only the District of Columbia had a higher per capita ranking. New Hampshire was fourth and Maine eighth.
It’s not a coincidence, Peace Corps staff says.
"I think it has to do with how those communities are built and how interwoven the culture is with community activities," said New York-based Brian Melman, who oversees Peace Corps recruiting in nine northeastern states. He served as a volunteer in Ukraine and has lived in Vermont twice. "I just think there’s a different vibe in those areas, people are more homespun, people do things together. They go to town meetings, they build things together."
Since 1961, more than 210,000 Peace Corps volunteers have served in 139 countries across the world. The Peace Corps has three main goals: Helping train men and women in the countries where volunteers serve; promote a better understanding of the United States in those countries and give Americans a better understanding. Currently there are 8,000 volunteers serving in 76 countries.
Since the creation of the Peace Corps, 1,453 Vermonters have served as volunteers across the world.
A teacher at his high school in the Vermont town of Hartford planted the seed with Ryan Leamy, 27, now a UVM graduate student who served two years as an agricultural extension agent in Mali.
"His thoughts were it’s the culture we foster in the state," Leamy said of his teacher "I think the fact that we are a small state as well, and a rural state. So many of our (Peace Corps) postings are rural communities, using many of the things that Vermonters do on a daily basis."
The area where Leamy grew up is part of the Lebanon, N.H.-Hartford, Vt., metropolitan area that ranks 9th in the country per capita for the production of Peace Corps volunteers.
Across the Connecticut River at New Hampshire’s Dartmouth College, graduates have served in the Peace Corps since its creation. The University of New Hampshire also helps keep the Granite State near the top of the rankings.
"Learning through service is an important part of the liberal arts experience, and the Peace Corps has been an important part of the Dartmouth experience," said Dartmouth spokeswoman Amy Olson.