Athletes stand in 3 rows after a workout

Local Hero: Troy Lawson for The Phoenix-Vermont

by Green Mountain United Way Volunteer Writer Robert Barossi

Coach Troy, second from the right, chats with athletes before a Pheonix workout in Barre.

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.

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How Rachel uses financial coaching to help women at Vermont Works for Women

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. Financial Coach:

  • 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 spending
  • 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 specific circumstances.

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 Women assists.

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How Financial Coaching helps Faye’s clients improve access to healthy food!

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.

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