by Green Mountain United Way Volunteer Writer Robert Barossi
An estimated 20.7 million adults in the United States needed
treatment for drug or substance abuse in 2017, according to the U.S. Department
of Health & Human Services. One national nonprofit working to provide a
unique approach to recovery support is The Phoenix. Founded in 2006, the
organization works to provide a sober active community for people in recovery
and now offers free activity programs in many states, where it has served over
26,000 people since it’s inception.
Arriving here in 2018, The Phoenix has a number of programs
in central Vermont, including one led by CrossFit coach, and volunteer of the
month, Troy Lawson.
“I’ve been a personal trainer for a lot of years,” he says. “It
was back in 2012 when I started doing CrossFit and I fell l in love with the
idea of class participation and having an instructor and having somebody
oversee your movement and oversee how you are moving. I was just drawn to it
and I went and got certified and started coaching at Green Mountain CrossFit.”
Troy heard about The Phoenix program through Tawnya Kristen,
of Green Mountain United Way, who was one of the driving forces behind bringing
it to Vermont. “Tawnya started hosting the first class in Vermont at Green
Mountain CrossFit and she was encouraging people to help out and volunteer,” he
says. “She wasn’t really sure what the impact was going to be on the community
but it’s been huge.”
He notes that one of the requirements to take part in the
program while in recovery is that participants have to have 48 hours of
continuous sobriety. “The goal was to try to set up something in the central
Vermont area that would keep their interest peaked at least every 48 hours.
When Tawnya started reaching out to try to find another location to host The
Phoenix, she reached out to me cause I have a relationship with Washington County
Mental Health. She knew I had some space down there to host another one of the
programs. She drew me in that way and it’s been amazing.”
While he wasn’t necessarily looking for volunteer
opportunities, Troy comments that everything fell into place really well. “It
wasn’t a hard decision,” he adds. “I had to think about it for a little while,
of course, but I was willing to do it. To participate in The Phoenix and see
what Tawnya and Shannon Brennan [a mental health counselor at Central Vermont
Substance Abuse] have brought to the central Vermont area, it’s pretty amazing,
it’s really hard to say no to them.”
“It isn’t a replacement for the meetings and it’s not a
replacement for the 12-step program,’ Troy says. “There’s a lot of stigma
around recovery, so The Phoenix gives them a positive way to interact with each
other that maybe was lacking. So that’s one piece. There’s the fitness piece,
giving them the opportunity to experience something that’s going to benefit
them in the long run. Another piece is that these people are in a pretty
vulnerable spot in their lives and Tawnya is really gentle and kind and she’s
very welcoming. That definitely made it more appealing for me to be a part of
something that was bigger than myself.”
On Saturdays, you may find Troy helping Tawnya at Green
Mountain CrossFit, but his Wednesday night programs happen at Washington County
Mental Health’s WellSpace in Barre. He calls the diversity of people who
participate in the program fascinating, noting the wide variety. “One thing
I’ve learned is addiction is across the board. Men and women. Older and
younger. It doesn’t matter how much income you have or any of that stuff. It’s
really amazing to see the folks that come there and allow themselves to be
vulnerable and put themselves out there and they’re trying something new.”
And while CrossFit can seem a little intimidating at first
to some, the program is also open to anyone, regardless of their fitness level.
Nobody is turned away. At the same time, Troy notes, CrossFit provides an
amazing sense of community because everyone works together as a group.
“It’s definitely bigger than yourself. Your giving back to something
that’s really a big deal,” Troy says, adding that there are moments of true
vulnerability and sharing of personal stories which he says can be powerful,
difficult and inspiring. “To just be a part of something like that and to give
that to my community is pretty cool. It’s hard to put into words exactly how it
feels. I just feel grateful that they allow me to be a part of their recovery.”
Local Heroes is a feature compiled by the Green Mountain United
Way focusing on the contributions of local volunteers whose gift of time
benefits local nonprofit organizations in Green Mountain United Way’s five-county
service territory. For more information, or to nominate a volunteer to be
featured here, go to www.gmunitedway.org/volunteer-of-the-month.
by Robert Barossi, Green Mountain United Way volunteer
Bluegrass bands. Vaudeville acts. Magicians and hypnotists.
If all that and more is happening and it’s New Year’s Eve in Vermont, you may
be in St. Johnsbury. And if you are at First Night North in St. Johnsbury, then
somewhere in the crowd is volunteer Jay Sprout, doing whatever he can to make
the event a success.
A native of Ohio, Jay came to New England by way of Yale
Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. He eventually set his sights on the
northern part of the region, where he felt more at home. In 1982, Jay landed in
St. Johnsbury, where he took a position as the minister of the North Congregational
“My church strongly supported me having community
involvement and they were totally behind me giving part of my time to working
on first night. I had a flexible schedule and could schedule times when I would
be working on first night in addition to my job,” he says.
The original impetus to start working on a first night event
was twenty-six years ago, after Jay attended first night in Burlington,
something he describes as “a very positive community experience.” After that,
he and the pastor at South Congregational Church in St. Johnsbury talked about
having a similar event in their city, something “that would be similar, on a
smaller scale perhaps, but would be just as positive for the community and
provide an equal range of entertainment on New Year’s Eve and cut down on the
use of substances, drugs and alcohol.”
“That has always been a focus of first nights in general and
we thought it would be a very positive part of what we could do with our first
night in St. Johnsbury,” he adds, noting that it has been a very successful
event in that regard. “So far as I know, there has not been any police action
needed on New Year’s Eve in St. Johnsbury since we started.”
Jay’s involvement with first night has changed and grown
since it began, back when the event was funded by a federal grant aimed at
substance abuse prevention. “The original people who put it together with that
federal grant did a fantastic job of identifying the many venues in St.
Johnsbury where entertainment could be held and then regional entertainers who
wanted to participate,” Jay says. “They really set the model and we had such an
enormous success that first year that it sort of took off. We have certainly
expanded the number of venues. Last year, we had eighteen venues in thirteen
buildings, for eight hours, presenting, I think, 83 acts by 60 or so different
groups or artists.”
For the past nine years, Catamount Arts has played a large
role in keeping first night going and successful, and Jay has remained as
involved as ever. He says his favorite role is “the actual curating and
figuring out who is going to come and trying to put together a program that
offers a wide variety of entertainment. The vast majority of first night
entertainment is musicians, we try to make sure that we have music to suit
every taste, all the way from bluegrass and folk to classical performances and
everything in between. You name it, I think we’ve pretty much covered it.”
Those acts, including Bob Amos & Catamount Crossing’s
bluegrass band, Vermont Vaudeville, Nimble Arts Ruckus Circus, magician
hypnotist Marko, and many more, fill the numerous St. Johnsbury venues for
eight and a half hours, from 4pm until after the midnight fireworks. The
diverse variety of acts originate from all over our region and Jay notes it’s
not just the performers who come from far and wide.
“We really do think of this as a regional event that covers
northern New Hampshire as well as the upper valley of Vermont and New Hampshire
and all the way to Newport,” he says. “St. Johnsbury is really blessed with a
lot of really good venues that are all in a pretty tight area, so that people
can get from one end to the other and walk about a half-mile. That is really
remarkable. It’s very different from other cities that try to hold these kinds
If Jay’s work with First Night North seems like a year-round
job, it is. And, while it may be a lot of work, it’s worth it for Jay when he
walks around on New Year’s Eve and sees people of all types having a really
good time. “It’s far more inclusive of the entire community than a lot of the
other arts performances tend to be. We also try to make sure that everybody can
afford it, so the price is kept low. For those who really can’t afford it, we
have connections with social service agencies and we give away three to five
hundred free buttons every year to families.”
“As I walk down the street, a lot of people recognize me and
say thank you. It obviously makes me feel good that they recognize that we have
given a wonderful gift to the community,” he notes, adding, “At the same time,
I feel very humbled because I know that I don’t do it alone by any means.”
Still, there are some who are unaware of the event or aren’t
interested because first nights, in general, can sometimes get a bad rap. “Any
time I get a chance to talk to somebody who hasn’t found out about it, I try to
give them a picture of what a wonderful community event it is and how much fun
they can have on New Year’s Eve without going to a party that is serving
alcohol or just being isolated unto themselves,” Jay says. “The community
experience is really wonderful. People who attend are also ambassadors for the
event and I hear time and time again how much it’s become their own New Year’s
Being a part of that tradition is just one of Jay’s
volunteer efforts, which also include being on the Board of Directors for
Northeast Kingdom Habitat for Humanity, among other community activities. He
points to the words of Saint Francis of Assisi, “It is in giving that we
receive,” as one reason why he puts so much time, energy, passion and
dedication into these efforts, adding, “I think that’s a truth about life. If
you live it in isolation, you definitely are missing out on what life is all
The Local Heros is a monthly feature compiled by the Green
Mountain United Way focusing on the contributions of local volunteers whose efforts
benefit local nonprofit organizations in Green Mountain United Way’s service
territory in Caledonia, Essex, Orange, Orleans and Washington Counties. For
more information, or to nominate a volunteer to be featured here, go to www.gmunitedway.org/volunteer-of-the-month.
April is National Volunteer Month and here at United Way, we know that Volunteers make the world go ’round!
For so many nonprofits, volunteers are the beating heart of our work and make many of our local nonprofit’s missions possible. This month, we want to sing it from the hilltops, so we’re hosting a virtual Volunteer Share!
We’d like your help – get in on the action by printing the “I volunteer because…” sign (link below) and posting a photo of yourself on Facebook page and sharing it on yours and tagging Green Mountain United Way.
How it works:
Print the sign
Write in why you volunteer! (could be as simple as “because it makes me happy!” or as complicated as you like, just make it legible! There is a word doc in case typing is easier.)
Take a selfie or have someone take your photo holding the sign
Post it on your Facebook page and tag Green Mountain United Way and then post it on our Facebook page (better yet, also tag the organization you volunteer for!)
Email it to me and we’ll post it on our page and here on this blog post!
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.
Rachel, the Job Developer at Vermont Works for Women, was
recently certified as a K.E.E.P. Financial Coach. As part of the economic
stability work that she does, Rachel helps women improve their resumes, as well
as set and plan for career goals, but recently she was asked to present to a group of women at a domestic violence shelter here in Northern Vermont about money management basics. The women in the group all live together at the shelter and are comfortable and familiar with one another so discussing
finances was something they felt able to do together. Rachel decided to use her Financial Coaching skills to help them build skills and learn new tools during her time with them.
For many women domestic abuse and financial abuse often go
together. Some of the women in attendance had left difficult circumstances with
little or no money because their former partner had emptied their shared bank
accounts. Circumstances like these make financial conversations even more
difficult because of the strong emotions associated with money.
For the workshop, Rachel set her own goal of sharing some of
the basic money-management skills she had learned in becoming a K.E.E.P.
Using a cash-flow spending plan and scheduling
bills/expenses to line up with income so you can make it through the month
Tracking expenses in order to know where your
money is going
Saving money for emergencies with a goal of $500
Plugging spending leaks, exercising mindfulness
around spending, and looking to reduce, not necessarily eliminate, certain
Making SMART financial goals
Many of the participants had never heard of SMART goal
setting. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and
Time-bound and is used in financial coaching to break down a big goal (I want
to buy a house) into smaller goals that work toward that end (I want to raise
my credit score 50 points by next May).
One participant was hoping to get her own apartment and the
group workshopped her goal to help her break it down into smaller SMART goals
with deadlines. They determined how much she would need to save each week, how
she was going to logistically make sure that the money was saved – would she put
cash aside in an envelope? Open a separate savings account? Could she have a
portion of her paycheck automatically deposited? Did she have to visit the bank
each week? In the end, the woman left with a step-by-step plan that was
tailored to her specific needs, habits, and life, and she knew exactly how she
was going to save up for an apartment.
Rachel was glad to see the women each considering how the
different skills and tools she brought could make a difference in their
As a coach, Rachel plans to continue to use these tools with
the women she sees one-on-one and other small groups that Vermont Works for
Faye works for the Vermont Foodbank as a 3SquaresVT Outreach
Coordinator. In her role she assists Vermonters in completing the 3SVT
(formerly SNAP/food stamps) application and advocates for them through the
process, she also works to ensure Vermonters are receiving the full 3SVT
benefit they’re entitled to. Recently the Vermont Foodbank noticed that there
were far fewer Vermonters over 60 enrolled in the program than are eligible.
Closing this gap is a focus of Faye’s work.
After Faye joined the K.E.E.P. Financial Coaching Program
she wondered how to integrate her new coaching and financial skills into her
job. While working with a couple who, at first, seemed like they were
ineligible for 3SquaresVT, she realized exactly how Financial Coaching could
help her clients. Because of her experience with the intricacies of the 3SVT
application process, Faye knew that her clients’ out-of-pocket medical expenses
made a difference in their eligibility. While her clients had used budgeting
for their monthly bills, they did not keep track of their out-of-pocket medical
expenses. When she asked, they did not know whether they were spending $35 or more
each month on out-of-pocket medical expenses. Faye realized that she could use
her Financial Coaching skills to help this couple budget and track these
expenses to ensure that they had the information they needed when it was time
to apply for 3SVT.
Faye helped them to create a budget and tracking process for their medical expenses. By working with Faye the couple realized that they were spending above the $35 threshold. By tracking their expenses saving the documentation needed to back up their tracking, they were able to apply and become enrolled in 3SquaresVT. Now they receive over $100 per month in food assistance that they would not have been able to receive if Faye had not been a financial coach and used her in-depth knowledge of the 3SVT application process to find a way to help this couple get the additional food they need.
K.E.E.P. Financial Coaching is a Green Mountain United Way program that trains and supports financial coaches who are client-facing staff in nonprofit and community service agencies throughout our region. These coaches work directly with clients on many issues and as coaches can address financial issues to help address the financial instability at the core of many challenges that clients and community members face.
On a recent, crisp, cold January morning, over 20 nonprofits were represented in Norwich University’s Kreitzberg Library’s Multi-Purpose room for Green Mountain United Way and Norwich University’s Volunteer Coordinator Panel and Networking event. Carrie Stahler of Green Mountain United Way facilitated a discussion by panelists Greg McGrath from Norwich University, Erin Regan from The American Cancer Society and Patty Connor from Central Vermont Home Health and Hospice to discuss volunteer recruitment, placement, retention, and management from a variety of viewpoints.
Greg organizes campus events and activities throughout the school year working with various student groups to accomplish his work. Greg brought a studied volunteer management perspective and spoke about creating systems that benefit your organization and a volunteer’s interests. Erin’s focus is on working with groups of volunteers regionally to operate the Relay for Life events in Central Vermont and Caledonia County. Erin’s input helped us all learn more about successful outreach and relationship building, working with groups and committees, and she really lit up when talking about how to use social media to reach and communicate with volunteers. Patty brought us the perspective of a smaller nonprofit organization and covered how to engage volunteers in various tasks, how to work with departments who use volunteers to ensure volunteers and staff are working well together.
Nonprofits were engaged and had a lot of general and specific questions that informed the conversation. Nicole Didomenico from Norwich University’s Center for Civic Engagement hosted the event and shared her experience and ways that Norwich students could help organizations meet their volunteer needs and what limitations faced students that nonprofits should be aware of.
Green Mountain United Way holds volunteer coordinator meetings quarterly alternating between Central Vermont and the Northeast Kingdom. The next meeting will take place in the Northeast Kingdom in April. To get an invitation, join our mailing list by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.