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 firstname.lastname@example.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.