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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 writer
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 Church.
“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 of events.”
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 Eve tradition.”
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 about.”
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.
Green Mountain United Way is pleased to announce the recent hire of Heather Labounty to its Working Bridges Program Staff. Heather Labounty has been hired to serve Working Bridges worksite locations as the full-time Northeast Kingdom Resource Coordinator.
Before joining Green Mountain United Way, Heather Labounty worked as a community health coordinator at Northern Counties Health Care. “I’m excited for the opportunity to be part of a growing organization that helps those in my own communities. I think this will be a great way to use my experience to help others, that’s what really motivates me,” said Ms. Labounty.
“After an extensive interview process, we were so pleased to hire Heather to this role. She brings with her invaluable on-the-ground experience serving the community in the Northeast Kingdom, and we are so fortunate to be able to bring this experience to the Northeast Kingdom employers and employees we serve through the Working Bridges program.” said Tawnya Kristen, Executive Director of Green Mountain United Way.
Working Bridges is an employee-service and workforce development program offered to business partners in the Green Mountain United Way service area covering the Northeast Kingdom and Central Vermont. Since launching the program in their service region in 2016, Green Mountain United Way’s Working Bridges program has expanded to serve four large employers and one small employer with a combined workforce of over 2000 individuals.
“This program has expanded so much in just two short years and we are so happy to have Heather join us to support this growth. Her experience and her open, friendly personality are an asset to the program and the community. We believe that the employees served by Working Bridges will be in excellent hands and that this will be a smooth and easy transition for Heather and for the workforce we support,” offered Pam Bailey
, Director of Programs and Operations at Green Mountain United Way and program manager for Working Bridges.
Ms. Labounty lives with her husband and two sons in St. Johnsbury and ran her own daycare center before changing her career to join the human services sector. She serves on the board of Sid’s Pantry, a food shelf in Concord, Vermont and is actively involved in her sons’ baseball league.
Northfield, Vermont – September 25, 2018
Green Mountain United Way celebrated the individuals and organizations in their five-county service region with an award ceremony at their Annual Breakfast at Norwich University’s Milano Ballroom on Tuesday, September 25th.
“The recipients of these awards embody the heart and soul of the work we are doing at Green Mountain United Way,” said Tawnya Kristen, Executive Director of Green Mountain United Way. “Through hands-on efforts at the community level, these organizations and individuals are bringing together individuals, ideas, efforts and resources to build lasting change across our communities.”
Green Mountain United Way was proud to honor six outstanding organizations and individuals at this year’s award ceremony with business, government, nonprofit and community partners in attendance. These awards are given to organizations who have shown exceptional leadership, effort, and impact in communities throughout Caledonia, Essex, Orange, Orleans and Washington Counties during the past year.
These awards focus on Green Mountain United Way’s partners who are making a significant difference within the community they live, work or serve and the many ways that our work integrates with the broader goals of those who we work with to serve the community and also recognize success in fundraising through United Way Workplace Campaigns and highlight partners who went the extra mile to facilitate a successful giving campaign for their community. This year’s awardees are:
Community Impact Award – University of Vermont Health Network – Central Vermont Medical Center (CVMC)
This award is given to an organization who has made an exceptional contribution to the community through their dedication and commitment to community impact.
This year Green Mountain United Way is proud to recognize Central Vermont Medical Center for their leadership in several aspects of the work they are doing for our communities right now. As the Integrator Organization for THRIVE, Central Vermont’s Accountable Community for Health, CVMC is leading the mission to optimize the health and well-being of our community through informed collaborative and innovative solutions. We would also like to recognize their leadership in the Working Bridges Program. As the first Central Vermont Working Bridges site, they are leading the way to care for those within their organization in unique and innovative ways that result in better care for all within our Central Vermont community.
Accepting the award was Anna T. Noonan, CVMC president and chief operating officer; Robert Patterson, vice president of Human Resources and Clinical Operations; and Monica Urquhart, manager of Employee Relations and Wellness.
“We deeply value our longtime partnership with Green Mountain United Way, which continues growing through the addition of the Working Bridges program,” Noonan said. “In Working Bridges’ first three months at CVMC, resource coordinators have offered members of our team guidance on transportation, housing, childcare, finances and income advance loans for emergency needs. Having an expert on site, every week, is an invaluable and convenient service for our team. Our thanks to the United Way and Vermont Community Foundation for making this important partnership possible.”
“Working Bridges dovetails with THRIVE, which is working to improve access to health care, nutritious food, affordable housing, education and financial wellness,” Noonan continued. “We’re proud to team with Green Mountain United Way and all of THRIVE’s leadership partners in connecting communities across central Vermont.”
Employer Leadership Award – Northern Counties Health Care
This award is given to an organization who shows exemplary leadership in supporting their employees to make a difference in their own lives and in their broader community.
This award is given to our partners at Northern Counties Health Care for taking the initiative to the spirit of “Caring for the Caregivers” as a starting point to make their organization stretch beyond the traditional boundaries of a “health care providers” to consider the health and well-being of all within their walls, and to see the connections between their employee’s wellness and the results they see for their patients. They are doing this through internal policies, their Working Bridges Program, employee participation in the K.E.E.P. Financial Coaching Program and their support of their employees to expand the boundaries in the many ways they are able to serve their communities, while supporting employee growth and success. Accepting the award was CEO Shawn Tester, Kari White and Laurie Somers.
“At Northern Counties Health Care we are incredibly grateful, both for our partners at the Green Mountain United Way, but also for the Working Bridges program which has helped so many of our staff through financial coaching, advance loans for emergencies, and income tax preparation. Working Bridges helps us care for our employees, so they can care for our patients and community. The program also directly aligns with the work we are doing in NEK Proper!, our regional Accountable Health Community.” Tester offered.
Community Spirit Award – VSECU
This award is given to a business that has put the “FUN” in fundraising and has gone the extra mile to make their workplace campaign a success for both employees and the community.
This past year the Campaign Team at VSECU used their already community-minded workplace as a platform to challenge employees to show their support for the community – they had t-shirts, challenges, and chocolate, and this enthusiasm spilled over into immense support for the foster children in our communities through their participation in the 2017 Tatum’s Totes Holiday Drive. Accepting the award was Vice President of Human Resources Eileen Belanger, Tammy Manning and Ann Hodgdon.
Campaign Champion Award – BlueCross and BlueShield of Vermont
This award is given to a worksite that has the greatest percentage increase, over their past year’s campaign.
As one of Green Mountain United Way’s most long-term supporters, the generosity of BCBSVT’s employees can already be seen throughout Green Mountain United Way and the community, but with a little creativity, ingenuity and incredible support they were able to grow their support by 52% last year. Accepting the award was Vice President of Customer Service and Planning, Catherine Hamilton.
Community Commitment Award – Timothy Barre, Northfield Savings Bank
This is a new award added this year as part of our new Volunteer Program to recognize the commitment of volunteers throughout our community and the impact that the gift of time can make.
This year’s recipient, Timothy Barre, has been a volunteer with Green Mountain United Way for over a decade, and as a volunteer on the Development and Marketing Committee and participating in each of our Annual Days of Caring, Tim is one of the biggest champions of the new Volunteer Program and online Volunteer Connection. His passion and enthusiasm for volunteerism is contagious.
Rising Star Award – Nicholas Petterssen, Green Mountain CrossFit
This award is given to an individual who demonstrates new or renewed leadership and passion for supporting the work of Green Mountain United Way.
This award recognizes Nick for his leadership using the common framework of physical fitness and building a transformational space at Green Mountain CrossFit where all, regardless of income, ability, or struggles, are empowered to become a healthier version of themselves. His understanding that what his gym provides is a true human service, disguised as a business, is the keystone upon which we’ve built our partnership to bring The Phoenix to individuals in recovery in Central Vermont. With this award we recognize Nick’s unwavering current and future support of both our organization’s work and the mission we share, to help all within our community achieve physical health and well-being.
BERLIN — Joni Verchereau stands out in a crowd. Her presence is warm, open, and friendly.
As a member of the First Congregational Church of Berlin, she is responsible for coordinating the church’s monthly donations to Green Mountain United Way’s Tatum’s Totes partnership. Tatum’s Totes supplies foster kids with backpacks, clothing, water bottles and just about anything else you can fit into a backpack.
Some children are taken into the foster system with nothing more than a garbage bag with their clothes inside. The Tatum’s Totes backpacks provide items the kids desperately need and helps them transition into their new homes. Since July 2017, the congregation has collected supplies for more than 100 kids in Barre, Newport, and St. Johnsbury Department for Children and Families regions. In 2018 alone, Green Mountain United Way and Tatum’s Totes has provided more than 30 backpacks to children transitioning to emergency foster care.
As an X-ray technician at the local hospital, Verchereau says she sees the need all the time — children who have lost everything and may not know what is ahead of them. Verchereau sympathizes. She is a single mom whose son is now 21. She remembers when he was little, she wanted so badly to foster another child but wasn’t able to. “No child would choose this life,” she says.
Although she didn’t have the means to foster a child, Verchereau still wanted to give back. She started rescuing dogs. She gave back in other ways, too. She has been a member of the church for more than 20 years, assisting with outreach projects as they come through, and even teaching Sunday school. Her history with the church runs deep. She began attending as a teenager, moved away for 10 years, and then returned as an adult with a son and a flourishing career in health care.
It wasn’t an easy road for her, however.
Most people didn’t believe she was college material, but when Verchereau saw a new education program for X-raying, she thought she’d try it until she figured out what she really wanted to do with her life. The career track stuck. She loved the work and was good at it. She made straight As and graduated at the top of her class. After moving into X-ray technician work full-time, her “aha” moment came when she was first able to operate a CAT scan. She describes the experience as being like an actor finding their first big part in a television show; it was in that moment she knew this work was what she was meant to do. She’s been doing it ever since.
Verchereau still has lots of good work to do and attributes the generosity of the church to its very generous members. They always give more than is asked of them, she says. If United Way needs 100 gifts for kids, the congregation gathers 200. She’s proud of the dedication of her fellow church members, and proud of how their work shows children throughout the state they are cared for and loved.
“It gives them a little light at the end of the tunnel,” she says.
Tatum’s Totes is a partnership between Green Mountain United Way and Tatum’s Totes, an independent nonprofit in Rutland. Tatum’s Totes was created by Elizabeth and Alex Grimes to help children while honoring the memory of their son, Tatum, who died of SIDS. Tatum’s Totes works in partnership with local organizations and volunteers to serve foster children in all DCF regions in Vermont. Green Mountain United Way coordinates this work through the generosity of the community contributors like the members of the First Congregational Church of Berlin, through donations of items used to fill backpacks, and through the generosity of donors through the annual community campaign.
For more information or to support Green Mountain United Way’s Tatum’s Totes partnership, contact Pam Bailey at Green Mountain United Way by email at email@example.com or by phone at 802-613-3989.
The Volunteer of the Month is a feature compiled by the Green Mountain United Way, focusing on the contributions of local volunteers whose work benefits local nonprofit organizations in Green Mountain United Way’s service territory. This article was originally published in the Times Argus on June 22, 2018. To view all of our Volunteer of the Month articles, go to
To nominate a volunteer for Green Mountain United Way’s Volunteer of the Month, click here.
Green Mountain United Way teamed up with our partners at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont and Northfield Savings Bank to hold a clean-up and green-up day on Heaton Street in Montpelier. We worked at nonprofit senior residence Heaton Woods doing landscaping work on their courtyard so that their elderly residents have a beautiful, safe, outdoor space to enjoy in the warmer months. We also painted the fence surrounding the area.
Across the street we worked on Washington County Mental Health’s Heaton Woods facility painting windows and their front columns, cleaning up around the property, trimming trees and finally planting perennials along the front walk and under their sign!
We can’t thank our crew enough for their hard work and for the support of Hunger Mountain Co-op and Shaw’s for providing food for lunch, as well as our fantastic Grill-Master Tim Barre, our volunteer from Northfield Savings Bank. Thanks to Bagitos in Montpelier for breakfast bagels!
United Way holds a Day of Caring each year. If your organization has a project that could be accomplished with 20-30 volunteers, please email volunteer @ gmunitedway.org with information about what the project involves. Carrie or Beckie will be in touch to talk about the possibility of holding a Day of Caring.
Hanneke is one of the volunteers who make the support given to seniors by the Central Vermont Council on Aging possible. Like the support she provides, Hanneke is humble and unassuming. But once she started talking about her visits with the seniors she volunteers with, she started to glow.
Hanneke is a recent transplant to Central Vermont from the Northwest. At first, she found the transition to her rural Vermont home isolating and she missed the bustle of a more urban area and the community she had left behind. To help overcome that sense of isolation, she began to look for ways that she could connect to the community here and use her skills and interests to help her build a new community in Central Vermont. That’s when she found the Central Vermont Council on Aging’s direct service volunteer program to help match community volunteers with seniors. Volunteers help seniors throughout Central Vermont by offering companionship to an older person, offering respite to caregivers, assisting with household chores, grocery shopping, organizing, and regular activities that help to elders stay in their homes and remain independent.
In her professional life Hanneke works as an Occupational Therapy Assistant and she already knew she loved working with older folks and seniors. Through her work she helps seniors become more independent in their daily routines like getting dressed and making meals, and increasing their strength and endurance to decrease fall risks all to help them live as independently as possible. She loves the part of her job that involves working directly with people to help them improve their lives, stay in their homes, and stay independent. It came as no surprise that she chose to help the seniors in her community achieve the same goals – stay in their homes, remain independent, and stay healthy – as her volunteer “job”.
Hanneke views her role as an extension of being a member of the community. Listening to her talk, I came to understand fully how she feels not only about her volunteer work but about her philosophy in general.
“I have the time to give, so why wouldn’t I volunteer to help others?” is the way that I can best paraphrase her response when I asked her “what motivates you to volunteer?”.
To Hanneke, it was a matter of course that she would give her time to help others and she seemed surprised that it was being celebrated as something unique – this is simply part of who Hanneke is and how she lives her life, both personally and professionally.
As a volunteer, she loves to help people outside, especially those who love to garden but may not be as able to do the heavy lifting required to keep a garden as they have in the past. Last summer she embarked on a project with one of the seniors she volunteers with. In the beginning, Hanneke was unsure how far they would get or how much they could accomplish. As they worked together preparing beds, plants and soil, she could see the woman she was working with light up and the more they did over the course of weeks, the more it seemed she could do! In the end, they planted tomatoes, built trellises from large sticks and stakes they harvested from the woods, watched those tomatoes grow, and harvested them together. Completing the cycle was both emotionally rewarding and delicious.
As she told me that story, I began to wonder who had received more joy from the process, Hanneke or the senior she was assisting? Hanneke truly demonstrates that fact that volunteers often get as much joy as they give!
CVCOA volunteers can help their older neighbors remain in their homes and connected to their communities by providing rides to appointments, assisting with grocery shopping, or other small tasks. Sometimes it’s as simple as a friendly visit. For more information, visit https://www.cvcoa.org/volunteering.html or call our Volunteer Coordinator at 476-0151.
The Volunteer of the Month is a feature compiled by the Green Mountain United Way, focusing on the contributions of local volunteers whose work benefits local nonprofit organizations in Green Mountain United Way’s service territory. This article was originally published in the Times Argus on May 30, 2018.