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.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

 

 

Read More

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/.

Read More

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.

Read More

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!

Read More

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.

Read More