A Heartland Victim Services’s annual Charity Check Stop is slated to run Dec. 5th from 11 to 3 p.m. on Hwy. 12 by Walmart.
All proceeds from the Charity Check Stop will go to victims of crime or tragedy, said Sheila Gongaware, program manager.
Ultimately, Heartland Victims Services provides support, information and referral to all victims of crime, trauma or tragedy within the Stettler RCMP detachment area.
“Usually, between $5,000 and $8,000 is raised.”
Funds raised through the Charity Check Stop help victims of crime in a number of ways, from assisting to pay for a hotel room and meals to court preparation – they try to make sure that if anyone who is going to court and needs court assistance, that they are taken care of, she said, adding that Heartland Victim Services started up about 25 years ago.
“There are over 100 Alberta police-based programs going. Victim Services programs handle, on the average, 31,000 new cases a year in Alberta – and over half of those involve helping victims of violent crime.
And while the program is run through the RCMP, files don’t have to come through the RCMP.
“They can be self-referred as well,” she explained.
Gongaware said she suspects some folks in the community aren’t fully aware of what the programs through Victim Services fully entail.
Meanwhile, Victim Services’ vision statement reads, “When people are victimized by crime or tragedy, they may be confused, overwhelmed and distrustful of others. They may experience various physical, emotional, behavioural and cognitive difficulties.”
To that end, Victims Services has volunteers who help people through a difficult time.
“Under the guidance and direction of the police, we provide support, information and referral services to crime/tragedy victims and their families. our services are available on a 24-hour basis, and are free and confidential.”
Meanwhile, Gongaware said that some of the people involved with the Charity Check Stop include the Stettler RCMP detachment, Heartland Victims Services, Stettler Medical Emergency Services and the Stettler Fire Department.
For those interested in signing up as a volunteer with Victims Services, extensive training and professional development opportunities are included.
And that training is always ongoing. “We are doing overdose awareness in January that I will be promoting, too.”
These days, the organization has four advocates and two others who are currently in the process of gaining their security clearance.
“My goal – I’m looking for more advocates. I’d like to have 12 by the end of 2021,” she said.
“It’s very fulfilling helping someone who is in a horrible situation, and then walking them through to the other side. And the advocates wouldn’t be doing this if they didn’t have a heart to help those going through such struggles.
“They find it rewarding, and that comes through as they are doing their advocacy work because if you have the heart for it, it just won’t come through. The victims are going to feel that.”
For those signing on for training, programs cover topics ranging from victimization, suicide prevention and intervention, assault, domestic violence, elder abuse, property crimes, sexual assault, stalking and harassment and sudden death among others.
It takes about 50 hours to go through the modules.
Sometimes it’s just about having someone to talk to – “A compassionate person on the other end of the phone,” said Gongaware.
“And you don’t have to be a super hero to do this,” she added with a chuckle.
“Just somebody with a compassionate heart who wants to help people with a ‘lift-up’,” she said, adding that volunteers and board members all serve on a voluntary basis.
Other areas or educational focus include the criminal justice system, an overview of criminal justice, victim impact statements, restitution, restorative justice and legal remedies for victims of crime.
“We want our volunteers to have as much background as possible.”
Volunteers are also available to provide support in the first few critical hours after an incident which is particularly important for victims who do not have a support base of family or friends, according to Victims Services.
Volunteers also provide a referral service that connects victims with other community agencies and organizations from counselling agencies, distress/crisis lines and shelters to the medical examiners’ office and social services/child welfare.
For Gongaware, her role, despite the challenges, is clearly fulfilling.
“It’s about helping people get to the other side when they are at the bottom of what they feel is the worst incident of their lives,” she explained.
“It’s not always easy getting to the other side – sometimes you have to go to trials, for example. So it’s really about walking with them and being that person that can help them. You don’t ‘take’ their burdens on, but you can be that cheerleader as they are going through this, getting to the other side.
“And when you think of domestic violence, sexual assault or assault, a lot of times there are other things attached to those, so (victims) may feel more alone maybe because of shame or guilt. And they may not have family support either.
“A Victim Services advocate is sometimes the only person that somebody has.”
For more, call Sheila Gongaware at 403-741-7839 or find Heartland Victim Services on Facebook.