History | Volunteers For Peace

History of International Voluntary Service

Volunteers For Peace Burlington Vermont

Peter Coldwell (center) pictured at the Technical Meeting in Slovakia with representatives from our partner organization in Mongolia, Mexico, Slovakia & Japan.

The idea of International Voluntary Service came from the meeting of a group of Europeans following the First World War in 1920. In a dual attempt to remove the causes of conflict and heal the dreadful effects of war, International Voluntary Service or “workcamps” were born. After World War II, international voluntary service projects brought former enemy populations together in solidarity. In 1948, with the support of the recently established United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service (CCIVS) was created to coordinate these new international voluntary service organizations. In 2008, CCIVS celebrated its 60th anniversary!

History of Volunteers For Peace

Volunteers For Peace Burlington Vermont

1982 – Soviets Meet Americans at a Volunteers For Peace international voluntary service project in Belmont, Vermont.


During the summer of 1968, Peter Coldwell, Founder of Volunteers For Peace, participated in international short-term voluntary service projects (workcamps) in Hungary and Czechoslovakia through a program sponsored by the Unitarian-Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) in Boston. The value of working on a common project, helping a community and forming ties with other volunteers, coupled with his frustrations with the state of the world, motivated him to create an American international voluntary service organization.

In 1982, Volunteers For Peace was formed as a Vermont non-profit corporation for the purpose of “promoting peaceful relations among nations” and was accepted as a member of the Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service (CCIVS) at UNESCO in Paris. VFP’s original sponsors included seed money from the US Information Agency (then part of the US State Department), the Peace Development Fund and the Field Foundation. The Board of Directors was and still is composed of former volunteers and individuals committed to promoting voluntary service projects and peace. ‘


Read more about VFP’s history in our History Blog!


During the summer of 1982, VFP’s first outgoing volunteers were recruited and sent to projects in Poland, Finland, Sweden, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, the former U.S.S.R. and Czechoslovakia. VFP also hosted its first domestic voluntary service project in Mount Holly, Vermont with 19 volunteers from 11 countries.

Volunteers For Peace Burlington Vermont

1987 – Soviet and American volunteers at a State Farm project in the Ukraine.

In the 1980’s, Volunteers For Peace was heavily involved in the exchange of volunteers between the former U.S.S.R and the U.S., promoting citizen exchange and peace during the heart of the cold-war era. In the summer of 1985, VFP received grant money through the President’s International Youth Exchange Initiative, administered by the United States Information Agency (USIA) to initiate several conservation based bilateral workcamps in the USA with partner organizations in France and West Germany.

Over the past 35 years, VFP went from organizing local to regional to national domestic voluntary service projects and grew from sending hundreds to thousands of volunteers to partner organization’s projects abroad. VFP’s domestic projects have been in partnership with the USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, various affiliates of Habitat for Humanity , and dozens of non-profits and environmental and community action groups including Challenge Alaska, Montpelier Park Department, Solarfest, SPROUT, Wells Reserve at Laudholm and Lower Nine.

2017 was Volunteers For Peace’s 35th Anniversary!

USA Orchard Valley

Credit: A. Perchlik ~ Orchard Valley School, Vermont 2008