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International Rescue Committee honored by Thomas Jefferson's Monticello

The spring morning’s beauty was stunning as the sun climbed up a soft blue sky and new spring-green grass balanced nature’s palette of pinks, reds and yellows from the thousands of tulips lining the lawn behind Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

Wednesday was the 279th anniversary of Jefferson’s birth, and Harriet Kuhr took in the landscape as she accepted the first annual Thomas Jefferson Foundation Award in Citizen Service on behalf of the International Rescue Committee of Charlottesville.

“I was trying to imagine what the world looked like from this mountaintop then,” Kuhr, executive director of the Charlottesville and Richmond International Rescue Committee, told a crowd assembled on the West Lawn to celebrate Founder’s Day.

What Kuhr could recall were the changes in the world and in Charlottesville since 1998, when the committee welcomed its first refugee families, from the Balkans.

Since that time, the refugee resettlement group has helped more than 5,000 people from 30 different countries, Kuhr said, showing that “even a small city has a large role to play on the international stage.”

Kuhr noted that more people are being displaced from their homes now than at any time in history.

“We’re not asked to fix the whole world, just whatever corner of it we can,” Kuhr said.

About 200 people attended Wednesday’s event, which also featured music by the U.S. Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps, birthday buttercream cupcakes and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Sherrie Rollins Westin, a University of Virginia alumna and winner of the 2022 Thomas Jefferson Medal in Citizen Leadership awarded by UVa and the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, gave keynote remarks. Westin is president of Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational group behind Sesame Street.

As many parents who watch Sesame Street with their children know, there’s a lot more going on in the shows than meets the ear and eye, Westin said.

“They don’t just [teach] the number of the day or the letter of the day, but they open the hearts and minds of children,” Westin said.

On Founder’s Day, UVa joins with the Thomas Jefferson Foundation to present the Thomas Jefferson Medals. This year’s medal for architecture went to Kenneth Frampton, professor of architecture at Columbia University. He is considered one of the world’s foremost experts in modern architecture.

The medal for law was awarded to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. He was appointed a Supreme Court Justice by President Bill Clinton and is retiring at the end of the 2021-22 term.


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