Being a victim of crime or tragedy can feel lonely, fortunately you don’t have to go through it alone. (Pixabay)

Being a victim of crime or tragedy can feel lonely, fortunately you don’t have to go through it alone. (Pixabay)

Stettler’s Heartland Victim Services Unit ensures no one has to face being a victim of crime or tragedy alone

The charity check-stop will be returning to Stettler on Dec. 11, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Hwy. 12 by Walmart

Being impacted by crime or tragedy can be a painful experience for anyone.

Fortunately, it does not have to be a lonely one, thanks to the volunteers of Stettler’s Heartland Victims Services.

Heartland Victim Services, which works out of the Stettler RCMP detachment and is primarily funded through the Solicitor General’s office, can be accessed by a referral from the RCMP member attending a scene, through Family and Community Support Services, the Child Advocacy Centre, or through self-referral.

“We provide initial contact support and a listening ear, along with referral services to other agencies,” said Program Manager Sheila Gongaware.

In criminal matters, such as domestic assault, one or two volunteer advocates would attend the scene, and stay with the client as they give their statement to police and are assessed in hospital.

Once released from hospital, if needed, Victim Services will put the client up in a hotel or help them find alternative accommodations until they can return home safely.

While the client would not be expected to attend court as the matter progresses through its early stages, the volunteer advocates would follow the court case as it winds its way through the legal system, actually attending as the matter progressed to preliminary hearings and then to trial, updating the client along the way.

Clients would not have to attend court until subpoenaed.

Once subpoenaed, and the client actually had to attend court, Victim Services advocates accompany them for support during that court date and any subsequent court dates that were required, including sentencing.

In matters of sudden death, the volunteer advocates attend the scene to support the grieving family members until more family support is available or until they are no longer needed.

“If it’s a natural, sudden death, we’ll give them information on funeral homes,” said Gongaware. “If it (requires an) autopsy, we keep them in touch with the medical examiner. If it’s criminal involvement, we keep in touch all through the court process, and update on the accused.”

There are currently six volunteer advocates working for Heartland Victim Services, plus Gongaware and an assistant who are security-cleared and can work with clients as well, though more volunteers are always needed.

The organization is overseen by nine volunteer board members who determine the mission and purpose of the organization while offering guidance, management of resources, and plans to enhance public image to the advocates.

“We are always looking for advocates (and board members),” said Gongaware.

To qualify to be an advocate, a volunteer must go through a rigorous RCMP screening process, be over 18 years of age, complete a 50-hour e-learning module, and hold a valid drivers licence.

Volunteers do not need to live within Stettler, they just must live within the Stettler detachment service area, which means that residents of Gadsby, Erskine, Botha, and Big Valley are also eligible to apply.

In addition to Solicitor General funding, Heartland Victim Services also raises funds through casino fundraisers, and charity check-stops.

Unless the COVID-19 situation restrictions dictate otherwise, the charity check-stop will be returning to Stettler on Dec. 11, between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Hwy. 12 by Walmart, after being missed in 2020.

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