Helping hands

Heartland Victims Services plans a busy autumn season

The annual Charity Checkstop, to support Victims Services, is planned for Nov. 27

There is plenty on the go with Heartland Victims Services these days as fall unfolds.

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.

In the meantime, looking down the road a bit, plans are in place for the annual Charity Checkstop, which was cancelled last year due to the pandemic. “We are still hoping to go forward with it on Nov. 27,” she said, adding that could change with the shifting restrictions. But so far, so good.

Proceeds from the Charity Checkstop go to Heartland Victims Services to help any victim of a crime, she said.

Meanwhile, 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.”

Another project Gongaware wanted to spread the word about is the Linus Project.

“It’s to help brighten a child’s day with a blanket. So we have ‘blanketeers’ who volunteer to make blankets, which are given to victims of crime. We’ve given out at least 50 blankets within the last year,” she added. “And not just to children – I’ve been giving them out basically to anyone who I’ve been going to court with.”

So the search is on for even more ‘blanketeers’ to sign up for the program.

According to the Project Linus Canada web site, “On Christmas Eve, 1995, an article titled Joy to the World appeared in Parade Magazine. It was written by Pulitzer Prize winning photo-journalist, Eddie Adams.

Part of the article featured a child named Laura, who had been diagnosed with leukemia in 1993.

A special blanket helped Laura, three, get through more than two years of intensive chemotherapy.

After reading the article, Karen Loucks-Baker wondered if other ailing youngsters would like security blankets, noted the web site. And Project Linus was born.

“If people would like to get involved, I can give them a contact who I work with in Coronation.”

In the meantime, for those interested in signing up as a volunteer with Victims Services, extensive training and professional development opportunities are included.

“I have five Stettler advocates and two Drumheller advocates,” she said, adding that six others are in the process of becoming advocates. “I actually have two others who have their security papers and we are just awaiting clearance.

“So we are building the team!”

Gongaware said volunteers should, essentially, be good listeners.

Having time to do this is also important. “It’s also got to be someone who has a caring heart, and who wants to help someone who is going through a really rough time.

For those serving in Victim Services, Gongaware said they say they feel much gratification from helping others.

“Most of our calls right now are handled over the phone because of COVID, and so just having someone who can be empathetic over the phone and just be a listening ear (is ideal).”

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.

“It’s very fulfilling helping people to get to the other side of a tragedy or a trauma,” she explained. “We can’t do it for them – we can only be their cheerleader. So I always say, I can’t make those steps for you no matter what the situation, but I can be your cheerleader.

”That’s kind of how I look at it.

“I also want the public to know that Victims Services is out there to help. And right now, Stettler Victims Services is helping the Bashaw detachment, Drumheller, Coronation, Oyen and Hanna. So we are busy as we are covering more than just one police detachment,” she said, adding that Victims Services has been in Stettler for 27 years.

These days, Gongaware said the organization is also on the lookout for a new board member.

“If anyone is interested in becoming a board member or an advocate, they can reach out to me as well.”

For more, call Sheila Gongaware at 403-741-7839 or find Heartland Victim Services on Facebook.