Having launched 27 years ago, Heartland Victims Services provides support, information and referral to all victims of crime, trauma or tragedy within the Stettler RCMP detachment area.
And while the program is run through the RCMP, files don’t have to come through the RCMP, said Sheila Gongaware, program manager.
Of course, the pandemic has also affected operations to a degree, she added.
“But we are still meeting via Zoom as a board. And we have a whole bunch of training opportunities that we are putting forward and they are going to go through Zoom as well,” she explained. “We will be doing 12 sessions between now and the beginning of 2022.
“If we can do them in person, we are going to. But as it stands right now, we will be using Zoom.”
Topics range from grief, loss and bereavement, victimology and crisis intervention and professional wellness and post-traumatic growth to talking about empathy versus sympathy and burn-out, among others.
The organization’s 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. 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.”
For those interested in signing up as a volunteer with Victims Services, extensive training and professional development opportunities are included.
Locally, five people have all received their security clearances.
“And I have three who are working on their papers. Also, we are helping other detachments right now, so I have found other volunteers in those areas as well.”
Ultimately, she said she’d like to see upwards of 20 Victims Services advocates here in the local area.
Gongaware said volunteers should, essentially, be good listeners. Having time to do this is also important. “It’s also got to someone who has a caring heart, and who wants to help someone who is going through a really rough time.
“Really, whether it’s a victim of domestic violence, assault or theft, you are really walking with them through the mud to get to the other side,” she explained. “And also helping them through the justice system.
“It’s about patience, too, because nothing happens as fast as you want it to,” she said, referring to the complexities of the courts for example – particularly now during the pandemic.
“So if someone has a kind heart, a listening ear and has the time, plus there are the online learning sessions that take about 50 hours,” she added.
Training also covers 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.
Volunteers can 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.
Gongaware said she suspects some folks in the community aren’t fully aware of what the programs through Victim Services fully entail.
“I honestly think that some people in Stettler don’t know that Victims Services is still here,” she explained, adding that the service has actually been in Stettler for 27 years. “But people also really don’t know it is there until they need it.”
For those serving in Victim Services, Gongaware said they say they feel much gratification from helping others.
“Most people do want to give back in some way, and this is a way for them to do that. And a lot of the volunteers have gone through some sort of tragedy themselves,” she said. “They’ve had those support groups, and maybe it was Victims Services that helped them through.
“I also like to work together with all of the other agencies, whether it’s FCSS, or the Sexual Assault Centre – I like working with everybody because the more people behind the victims of crime, the better it is for them.”
For Gongaware, who started her post in Stettler last fall, it’s certainly proven to be a fulfilling role.
“I had a heart for Stettler to begin with – to me, Stettler has always been a wonderful community. And with Victims Services, the board has been phenomenal. The advocates, and the up-and-coming advocates, all have a passion for helping victims of crime. The detachment is also phenomenal! It’s great. Professionally and personally, it’s been the best move for me.”
Meanwhile, looking ahead, the annual general meeting is set for May 20th starting at 5 p.m. at Contact Safety. “We also have a regular meeting after that. And the general public is most welcome to come.”
For more, call Sheila Gongaware at 403-741-7839 or find Heartland Victim Services on Facebook.