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.
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 https://gmunitedway.org/.