The train depot in St. Johnsbury in the late 1800s or early 1900s was a bustling hub of transportation and commerce. Products of the industrial revolution boom town making their way to distant parts unknown. Passengers inside the 1883 Queen Anne-style building, awaiting their train on one of the railroad lines stopping there. Today, when you stop by the station, you find a welcome center, the town’s offices, exhibits on the area’s history, and volunteers like Darcy LaPointe and her dog Rags, ready to greet you with a warm and welcoming smile.
Born in North Carolina, Darcy spent most her life living in Minneapolis, after moving around quite a bit as a child. While the weather here might have its similarities to Minnesota, she says, “Vermont is so different from the way I was living before. I had to learn a lot.” Specifically, she adds,small-town life was the biggest adjustment.
“I never expected to live in a small town,” Darcy says. “We moved out here because my daughter decided to teach, she graduated and was going to start teaching. She wanted to teach at a small school and we thought, ‘well, we could go to northern Minnesota, but we could go anywhere.’ She teaches science and math and was really interested in the environment, and that’s a leading thing that we found here, interest in the environment.”
After relocating here, Darcy began working with Vermont Associates for Training and Development, an organization that provides training and employment services for adults aged 55 or older. “What they do is, anyone who is over age 54 and doesn’t have a job, or if they have a disability, can go and learn different jobs in different areas that are mostly volunteer-type jobs,” Darcy says. “You can be at Catamount Arts or you could be at the museum or you could be at the library and be learning new things so that maybe you can find work somewhere. I worked at the welcome center for a while, as a part-time thing and I really liked it.”
That experience led her to begin working at the welcome center as a volunteer, around three years ago, she says. Originally, she worked three days per week but has recently gone down to two days, Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, between two and five. She’ll be at the counter as soon as you walk in, accompanied by her toy poodle, Rags.
“He always greets everybody with me. I feel like he is the one that is the biggest welcome,” she says, adding that Rags takes a job that she thought she could never do and makes it possible for her. “I always have been very quiet and alone and not really…to actually help visitors who come to the town, this was really a challenge for me. Rags has made it so easy. People come in and they smile, they see him and he’s just adorable and they love him. It makes it so easy. People that love dogs always come up and talk to me about him. People who aren’t that interested, he doesn’t bother. He doesn’t bark, he doesn’t do any of those things. He likes to lay down and look like he is real tired so people will come and pet him.”
“I enjoy helping people if they are confused or if they don’t know what we have or what to do or something like that. It’s really a nice position for me,” Darcy says. Most of the questions she gets are about where to eat or stay in town, giving her a chance to recommend some of the great places in St. Johnsbury. “We have a lot of really good places to eat. So, it’s pretty much what they want, what kind of food they want. With motels, I always try to help them find something that is within their budget.”
One of the other great things about the job, she says, is the chance to meet and get to know some of the residents of a town she describes as “incredibly interesting,” primarily due to its long and fascinating history. “I’ve met so many people from the town because I see them come in to go into the town offices or the clerk. The ones who have been here their whole life, they have so many stories to tell me about what it has been like. I really appreciate it.”
Darcy also appreciates the opportunity to meet people from “everywhere,” noting that she encounters visitors from places as varied as England, Australia and Argentina. “That really makes my day when I get to meet somebody from that far away and they’re coming here and they’re appreciating all the things that we have here.”
Returning visitors give her a chance to develop a bit more of a relationship with some people, who she says always remember her and the “mascot” of the St. Johnsbury welcome center. She adds with a laugh, “They don’t ever forget me because I have Rags.”
Greeters like Darcy and Rags welcome over 10,000 visitors to the St. Johnsbury Welcome Center each year. In 2018, they saw visitors from all over the United States, including predictable visits from states in New England, but also visits from Indiana, Florida, California and other states. Additionally, the Welcome Center helped to introduce St. Johnsbury to visitors from 245 countries, as far away as Peru, Kazakhstan, and Norway, and as close as Canada. The Welcome Center is an important link that gives visitors the tools they need to navigate Vermont’s rural landscape, enjoy the natural beauty, recreation, food, and fun they came to find in the Northeast Kingdom, and support the vitality of the wonderful communities that we locals get to enjoy all year long.
The Volunteer of the Month is a feature compiled by the Green Mountain United Way focusing on the contributions of local volunteers whose volunteer work benefits local nonprofit organizations in Green Mountain United Way’s service territory. For more information, or to nominate a volunteer to be featured here, go to www.gmunitedway.org/volunteer-of-the-month.
Photo credit: St. Johnsbury Welcome Center