Mike Kiess announced his resignation as both Town and School Moderator Tuesday in an email to Town and School officials:
It has been an honor to serve my community in these roles, particularly during the experiment of effectively hearing each other and thinking together in virtual meetings.
Mike will be relocating to Kampala, Uganda, in December of this year to work as the Operations and Management Director for the US Peace Corps. He hopes to "remain a connected member of my Thetford home through family, church, the listserv, Facebook, and Zoom attendance at some meetings."
Mike has also been serving as the Chair of the Joint (Town/School) Thetford Energy Committee. In a phone interview, he said he would be stepping back from that role as well. "I'm going to remain a friend of the Committee, but I want to make room for others who can make more of a day-to-day commitment."
The Peace Corps evacuated volunteers from around the globe in early 2020 when it looked like people were not going to be able to travel internationally. Now that it looks like the pandemic is moving toward being under control, the Peace Corps is going to start sending volunteers out into the world again. Mike served with the Peace Corps from 2002-2006 in Bangledesh, and from 2006-2008 in Cambodia. He says that now "is an important time for the US in the world and I want to represent the best of our country if I can." He expressed his desire to help the Peace Corps get restarted in 2020 by reaching out to a former colleague and starting the year-long application and vetting process.
The post in Uganda will be two to three years. He'll be working with more than 150 volunteers once the Peace Corps is back up to full strength, supported by 30 full-time staff and additional temporary staff, another 30 or so, that provide, for example, support for training events. The volunteers engage with local and international partners, including local communities, nonprofits, and other governmental agencies, focusing in three primary areas: health education and outreach, English teacher training and development, and agricultural business development.
Mike has been working locally at Vital Communities, a position he will also be leaving. He says the position overlaps in some ways. "The work is to bring people together to understand one another and to work together on issues that are bigger than any one town or country. It takes collaboration to tackle issues such as energy, transporation, leadership, food, understanding the place we live, and also housing." Mike has been leading Vital Communities' housing work by bringing people together, such as groups of employers, local planners and officials, and residents. "We try to understand each other's perspectives and see where they overlap and where we can work together. It's been pretty successful, " Mike said.
Keys to the Valley is one project that Mike said he's "really pleased with." Out of that work are a few emerging efforts. One hinges on area businesses pooling resources to establish a shared revolving loan fund for housing development. Mike says the idea is still in the works. Another approach has been a focus on Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs). "Homeowners can't build homes for a living as a developer or a nonprofit, but they're an important source of solving the housing problem. Homeowners can be home creators with ADUs."
Mike's work, whether it's for the Peace Corps, Vital Communities, or Thetford as Town and School Moderator or on the Joint Energy Committtee, all has a common theme: leveraging diverse perspectives to facilitate solutions to complicated and shared problems. "As residents of this region or the globe, we have a lot of shared challenges. If we only try to solve them within Thetford or within the US, or any particular subgroup, we're not likely to be able to meet our needs in the long run. Many of the problems require us to engage with people beyond our small circle. If that's our regular habit as neighbors, to listen to one another, then it allows us to pay attention to all the other sources of ideas and solutions that surround us."
Mike ended his resignation letter to the Town and School with another offer to support his community. "I am willing to be available to the next appointed Moderator to support their preparation for our next [Town and School] meetings, if desired."