When On-site Coordinator Vern Saunders meets student groups in Washington, D.C., you’ll always find him dressed in a suit and tie. Yes, always. Even in D.C.’s summer heat! It is who he is: the consummate professional with a contagious enthusiasm for his job.
That enthusiasm brought him to WorldStrides as a Program Leader in 1976. A former Peace Corps volunteer and commander in Vietnam, Vern was teaching social studies at Falmouth Middle School in Maine when he got a phone call about leading a trip for students to Washington, D.C. Despite some initial reservations from the school principal, Vern thought it was the right thing to do for students and said yes.
“When I first started my 40-year working relationship with the company, there were only 8 full time employees,” he recalled.
Years later, he met a recent college grad who was newly assigned to manage his school’s trip. “Jim Hall came to visit me one evening at the Twin Bridges Marriott. He was barely distinguishable from my 8th graders scurrying about back then,” he laughed. Today, Jim Hall is WorldStrides’ CEO.
“He has remained a valued friend all of these years,” Vern said. “Mentoring him in his new job as an account manager as he shepherded me in mine as a group leader, we became fast friends.”
In 1984, Jim asked Vern if he’d add to his role with WorldStrides by training to be an “Escort” for groups. (“Escorts” are now called On-site Coordinators.) “I count it as one of the best decisions I have ever made. It has been an integral part of my lifeblood ever since.”
For years, Vern worked as a teacher and Program Leader, and as an On-site Coordinator in his free time. Even as Jim Hall rose through the ranks of the company, Vern continued to work with him directly. Jim Hall says, “I remained his Account Manager until long after I was the CEO. For a few years he was my only remaining account. I held onto this special school because Vern had become a good friend.”
After Vern retired from teaching in 2002, he became a full-time On-site Coordinator for WorldStrides, spending well over 100 nights in Washington, D.C. hotels each year assisting traveling groups. The energy he says he gets from the job is palpable. Hall also noted, “he is such a wonderful person and has an amazing rapport with students and teacher.”
Vern’s next steps bring him even closer to the company. In July 2016, this father and grandfather will marry long-time WorldStrides team member Carmen Purcell and move to Charlottesville, where WorldStrides is headquartered. “Dreams do come true!” Vern cheers. “I regard my ongoing work with WorldStrides as a centerpiece of a life well-lived.”