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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Local Hero: Jay Sprout for Catamount Arts

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.

Jay Sprout, ready for First Night!

“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.

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Volunteer of the Month: Darcy and Rags

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

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Volunteer of the Month: Joni Verchereau for GMUW’s Tatum’s Totes

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 pbailey@gmunitedway.org 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.

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Volunteer of the Month: Hanneke Holderbach from CVCOA

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.

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February 2018 Volunteer of the Month – Joyce Werntgen: Service Is A Life-Long Commitment

United Way Volunteer of the Month Joyce Werntgen: Service Is A Life-Long Commitment

Service is a life-long commitment, and our central Vermont community is lucky to have many stewards of that service. One of those stewards is Joyce Werntgen. She has been volunteering at the Vermont Center for Independent Living (VCIL) since her retirement in 2015. Joyce’s volunteer service started with a fondness for the organization, a natural curiosity about volunteering, and the desire to continue to serve her community even after retirement.

Joyce’s job before she retired was as a full-time employee for VCIL which made it easy for her to jump in and immediately begin helping. VCIL works to ensure that individuals with disabilities live with dignity and the support they need to remain in their homes. When she worked for the organization, Joyce was trained in multiple areas of the agency, including in their Home Access Program, which provides home entry and bathroom accessibility modifications for low-income Vermonters with physical disabilities. Because of her breadth of knowledge about variety of functions and areas, Joyce is now able to help the organization with whatever they need—database maintenance, phone calls, office work, and more. She also continues to work in the Home Access Program ensuring more Vermonters get access to the accessibility modifications they need!

Aside from her previous knowledge of the organization, Joyce was drawn to volunteer for VCIL for several reasons. She says she loves her work there because she loves the people. It’s a community, and showing up for a volunteer shift means she gets to see her friends. The organization is close to her home in Montpelier, and she says she supports the organization on a deeper level: the disability rights movement really struck a chord with her. Not only did her partner, Peg, help start VCIL as one of the original founders, but Peg’s daughter has a disability and Joyce has seen firsthand how the organization is able to make a difference in the lives of Vermonters.

Joyce says volunteers are of the utmost importance for the organization, as VCIL frequently deals with funding restrictions, volunteers provide the extra help needed to take some of the pressure off staff. Many of the volunteers working at VCIL also have disabilities, which helps foster a deeper understanding of what peers need throughout multiple levels in the organization.

For those who are interested in volunteering, Joyce says, “It is a wonderful way to get to know an organization. They make it easy.” Her experience with VCIL has been rewarding in the freedom and flexibility she has with her schedule, as well as the incredible sense of community its given her.

Vermont Center for Independent Living(VCIL) believes that individuals with disabilities have the right to live with dignity and with appropriate support in their own homes, fully participate in their communities and to control and make decisions about their lives.  To learn more about VCIL and the work they do for Vermonters, go to www.vcil.org.

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. 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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January Volunteer of the Month: Making a Difference for Parents in Central Vermont

By Chelsea Catherine, Green Mountain United Way volunteer

Sheila McLean, United Way’s Volunteer of the Month, is a woman who radiates warmth and kindness. It’s clear from the moment I meet her, seated at a table in a restaurant in downtown Montpelier, that the welcoming presence she emits is part of what makes her an excellent volunteer. Sheila volunteers for Good Beginnings of Central VT, which provides free resources and support for expectant parents and families with new babies.

Since 2012, Sheila has volunteered with the program for two to three hours once a week, visiting the homes of new parents and assisting them with a variety of tasks. Most often, Sheila helps take care of the newborn while the new mom catches up on household tasks, takes a nap, or allows herself a brief break to relax. Sometimes she reads or plays with an older sibling, so the new mom can focus on her infant. Her volunteer work constantly changes to fit the needs of her clients. Her support even helped one new mom complete her school work at the local community college, enabling her to graduate! For some moms, the hours Sheila provides are the only respite they get throughout the week.

Working with infants comes naturally to Sheila. Originally from Ottawa, Canada, Sheila became an RN at a diploma school in Montreal, where she worked side by side with doctors and nurses every day. After moving to Vermont with her husband, she began a twenty-five-year stint on staff at the Women and Children’s Unit at CVMC. For the past five years, she’s worked per diem. This is when she began volunteering, spending time at the Benefit Shop in Barre, and with a knitting group at the hospital where she makes prayer shawls to help comfort terminal patients and their families.

Sheila loves the work she does with Good Beginnings, and it’s clear from the excitement in her voice that the work is deeply rewarding to her. She says the biggest thing she’s learned from volunteering there with Good Beginnings is how hard some new moms have to work to make ends meet. “It was a wake-up call,” she says. She realized how much she has to be thankful for, and how many people really struggle in Central Vermont.

Part of her longevity as a volunteer comes from the amazing support she gets from the staff at Good Beginnings. Along with praise and consistent encouragement from the program coordinator, Good Beginnings also holds monthly “purple coffee hours” where volunteers can sit down and talk about the challenges and successes they’ve faced, while seeking advice from each other and staff. Sheila also receives lots of reinforcement from the moms. “I know after two hours, I’ve made a real difference in that mom’s life.” Truly, having support from a trained professional after having a new baby can mean a world of difference.

Good Beginnings commits to helping families at many levels. With a mission to, “bring community to families and their babies,” the organization provides any families expecting an infant with much needed respite service. Their primary Postpartum Angel service matches families with community volunteers who provide respite, companionship, and community connections during the postpartum period. Other Good Beginnings services include free early parenting workshops, a parent drop-in space with peer support groups, reduced-price baby carriers, and baby wearing support for new parents, a financial assistance fund for families in crisis, and the In Loving Arms cuddling program for vulnerable newborns at the UVM Health Network-CVMC Campus.

The medical profession runs in Sheila’s family. One of her daughters is a nurse and the other is a physical therapist. She says her years working as a nurse have greatly informed her volunteer work. She was even introduced to the Good Beginnings program by the founder and President of the program while at the hospital!

With over twenty percent of children being born to single mothers, the work of Good Beginnings volunteers is crucial to providing mothers with the support they need through the first twelve weeks of their children’s lives. Green Mountain United Way is proud to support the work of Good Beginnings and is incredibly proud to name Sheila as their Volunteer of the Month this January.

For more information on the work of Good Beginnings of Central Vermont visit http://www.goodbeginningscentralvt.org/ and to find out more about the work Green Mountain Untied way supports in the community, visit  http://www.gmunitedway.org/.

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UW Volunteer of the Month: Robert Harvey of Wash. Co. Mental Health

If you were to play a word association game, when you hear, “I have a background in engineering and business at a Fortune 500 company,” you might not think, “volunteer at the local mental health agency.” And if you did that, you would miss the incredible volunteer contributions Robert Harvey has made to our partners at Washington County Mental Health.

Harvey was recently recognized at WCMH’s 50th-anniversary celebration for his contribution to the organization over the past 17 years. His volunteer contribution on the board of directors there is a career in itself. He is the treasurer of the board, a role requiring an engineer’s meticulous attention to detail because of both the size of the organization — WCMH employs nearly 700 people in our region and serves many more community members — and also because the breadth of their funding sources and services.

Harvey is also on several volunteer committees at WCMH and regularly meets with the executive director, the director of finance, staff and management regarding health insurance benefits structure, financial performance, service delivery and staff workplace issues, and acts as a link to the board of directors. His enthusiasm for administrative and logistical topics is contagious and demonstrates the immense value of the volunteer work he does. It is also, likely, one of the reasons WCMH nominated him for Volunteer of the Month. His enthusiasm, focus, and attention to detail translates to a job well done: Harvey is not your average volunteer and he is just as dedicated to his work as someone hired for the job. His career prepared him well for his retirement volunteer “job.” As an engineer, his career contributions even include a part in the creation of the lunar module in 1967-68. He is an engineer at heart with the ability to focus on the details while keeping in mind the larger goal.

Harvey’s introduction to Washington County Mental Health’s services started when he and his family moved back to his wife’s home here in central Vermont after his retirement from that Fortune 500 company and decades as an engineer and businessman. His family’s move was not without challenges. His son is on the autistic spectrum and struggled with the changes of moving to a new, unfamiliar place. After his son had several crises, Harvey’s family was connected with WCMH to work with a case manager. He and his family were so grateful for the support and resources offered by the agency that helped their son transition into his new home. In particular, the case manager assigned to their son made a huge impact on Harvey. He described her effort as “really going the extra mile. She was so effective at getting our son into a support program and getting him everything she could to help him better transition into the community.”

It was she who suggested that Harvey consider joining the board of directors, so he wrote a letter and was invited to join. That was 17 years ago.

“Bob is an absolute gem. We just presented him with our Community Support Award for 17 years of dedication to our staff and clients through service on our Board of Directors as well as numerous committees. This is an award given for keeping the flames of hope and support alive. We are incredibly fortunate to have Bob on our team,” said Washington County Mental Health Executive Director Mary Moulton. When asked what the award means to him, he spoke about WCMH’s “staff and their commitment to the community. They live their work every day.” Harvey is proud that his volunteer contributions support the staff and the work the agency does, allowing more people to focus on the people in the community who they are helping. He said, “All the little details make the whole thing work.”

Harvey plans to continue to dig into all of the details at WCMH, and to continue to support the work they do, as well as honor their hard work by matching that with his effort as a volunteer. And after 17 years, he’s just getting started.

If you are interested in learning more about WCMH’swork, go to www.wcmhs.org.

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. For more information, or to nominate a volunteer, go to www.gmunitedway.org/volunteer-of-the-month.

Originally published by the Times Argus through their partnership with Green Mountain United Way to support Volunteerism in the community.

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Nominate a Volunteer of the Month

Does your organization have an incredible volunteer? Nominate them to be a Volunteer of the Month with Green Mountain United Way!

Every month we feature a local volunteer at Green Mountain United Way or one of our agency partners to feature on our blog and an article in the Times Argus. Do you have a new volunteer who you appreciate, a long-time volunteer who deserves some recognition, an individual who has made an exceptional difference for the work your organization does?
GREAT! Nominate them here:

After we receive your nomination, we will contact your volunteer for an interview. Volunteer of the Month articles appear monthly in the Times Argus. Read about all of our past Volunteers of the Month here!

Thank you to you and to all of the incredible volunteers that make our community a better place!

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Dr. Mark Yorra’s gift is health care for all

When I spoke to Mark Yorra and asked him how he got started volunteering, I got a story I did not expect.

Dr. Yorra has been a primary care doctor in the Barre area since 1980, and has helped lots of patients over the years. But it was one special patient who helped him and our entire community in ways that are still unfolding through his work at the People’s Health & Wellness Clinic in Barre. The community’s only clinic for those without insurance, People’s Health & Wellness has been serving individuals since 2014. They have offered dental care, as well.

In the 1980s, Yorra saw that a lot of people in the community who did not have insurance were being left without care and without options. While he saw the problems and thought that everyone should have access to health care, he did not begin to see himself as part of the solution until a patient of his showed him exactly how he much he could do.

Anna Bloom, a Brooklyn native and longtime central Vermont resident who passed away in 2014, was an activist at heart. She would go to her appointments with Yorra and chastise him for not doing more.

“She motivated me to do something. She would sit there and say, “It’s a disgrace in a country this rich that people don’t have health care. How can you let this happen?” And that really impacted me.” Yorra recalled. “Anna said that enough times that I started to look for ways to do something to help those people in our community without health care.”

Eventually, Yorra found a group of like-minded people, including Edie Kent, Faeterri Silver, and other doctors at Central Vermont Hospital (now CVMC) who wanted to help those in the community who did not have health insurance and needed care. They got together to form the People’s Action for Health Care group, now People’s Health & Wellness Clinic, in the spring of 1993. Soon after the group formed they were offered space in the McFarland building in Barre to set up the first clinic.

In the beginning, they served people two evening sessions a week, Yorra acting as a volunteer on the clinical staff and on the board as a founder of the organization. He worked with his peers at the hospital to recruit doctors and nurses to volunteer at the clinic. “In those years I’m sure that half or more of the CVH staff helped in one way or another at the clinic,” Yorra said.

Yorra was busy in those early years getting the organization on solid footing, seeing patients, recruiting volunteer staff, and keeping the clinic stocked and running. “Administration is a role that I was least skilled at. I am much better and more interested in seeing patients and the clinical aspects of the organization. For me, it is about building relationships, helping people figure things out, working with the nurses to problem-solve. I’m about to retire from my practice, but I will continue to volunteer at People’s Health & Wellness Clinic.”

In reflecting on his experience as a volunteer over the past three decades, Yorra offered that, “Volunteering, no matter what you do, it gives back to you as much as it gives to the people you are helping. Being a positive, helpful force in the community is important, because what would our community be without that?”

The work of the People’s Health & Wellness Clinic continues to serve those in our community without insurance, and though access to insurance has increased, there are still those who do not have health or dental coverage. Their services are still much-needed and well used. If you are interested in learning more about their work, go to their website at www.phwcvt.org.

This United Way Volunteer of the Month, is compiled by the Green Mountain United Way and features local volunteers whose work benefits groups partner with or are supported by Green Mountain United Way. For more information, go to www.gmunitedway.org

Originally featured in the 10/10/2017 edition of the Times Argus, reprinted here with permission.

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