Victims’ assistance program fills volunteer positions

The Smoky River & District Victims’ Assistance program is well on the road to volunteer-based recovery, thanks to a timely injection of support workers who have come forward to offer their assistance on the front line.
“I’m very pleased to say that as of right now we have five victims’ support workers in place,” said an excited Shelley Lauzé, coordinator for the program.
That figure represents a significant shift for the community-based and police-assisted non-profit organization, which prior to last fall had experienced difficulties with attracting new volunteer recruits to offer support services to victims of crime and trauma.
“When I took over this position last September we had one support worker,” Lauzé explained, adding that the issue of bolstering those numbers was her goal from day one.
Smoky River & District Victims’ Assistance Program officials began the arduous task of attempting to fill the huge void last October by spreading the word throughout the region.
That process brought about positive results in less than eight weeks after a handful of supportive answered the call.
“Volunteer-wise the program has rebounded. We have a terrific group of support workers representing this organization. Everyone gets along and works very well together,” Lauzé adds.
Support workers, which are the backbone of the victim’s assistance program, are provided with extensive training in the areas of communication, listening, crisis intervention, bereavement, family violence, suicide intervention and prevention, child abuse and sexual assault prior to being activated.
They are also required to go through a comprehensive security clearance check with the RCMP prior to beginning their work under the umbrella of the program.
The five individuals began their weekly training in January, a portion of which has coincided with the Peace River Victims’ Services Unit, currently under the watchful eye of coordinator Jim Kincaid.
Lauzé says the two organizations made the decision to combine some of their training efforts for a number of reasons, one of which was to avoid duplication.
“We set up our training sessions with facilitators and gave them (Peace River) the option to join us anytime. It’s proven to be very beneficial for both organizations,” she explained.
That includes the two coordinators, each of whom is relatively new to their respective position. Lauzé says having Kincaid around is like a breath of a fresh air, adding that, as coordinators, they routinely bounce ideas off each other in an effort to improve their respective programs.
Kincaid said he welcomed the invitation by Lauzé to combine training efforts.
“We’re still in the process of building up the volunteer base here in Peace River and as such we’re taking advantage of whatever training opportunities are available,” he said last week, adding that the training topics selected have been right up their alley.
“Ironically enough the first two courses Shelley offered us turned out to be the very same which we identified as our highest priorities (communication and crisis intervention).”
Kincaid went on to explain that the professionalism from Lauzé and Family Community Support Services (FCSS) Director Jill Yearous in developing a fundamentally sound training package is an indication of how well the program is doing to meet the ongoing needs of residents in the Smoky River region.
“Shelley and Jill have don an excellent job in putting the training program together.
“Their input and expertise has been very helpful to our organization and we’re very appreciative for being given the opportunity to work with them,” he said.
Lauzé said the need for an influx of additional support workers was a direct spin-off of an increase in the number of referrals being passed on to the organization by members of the RCMP detachment in McLennan.
She adds, however, that the jump in referrals does in no way reflects an increase in crime within the Smoky River region.
It merely represents a hike in the number of potential cases which RCMP members feel fits the mandate of the victims’ assistance program.
That aspect of the program was given a much-needed overhaul last May after it became public knowledge the RCMP was utilizing only a fraction of the program by limiting referrals to strictly high profile cases.
The difficulty with that, noted Lauzé, was that Alberta Justice’s grant funding formula to victims’ service units across the province is based on the actual number of case loads dealt with each year by individual units.
The end result was a smaller piece of the funding pie for the victims’ assistanc program, which depends on the funds to keep the program afloat.
Additional funding for the non-profit organization, meanwhile, is achieved through fund-raising initiatives in addition to generous donations from business community and municipalities in the region.
Lauzé says she is extremely grateful for this ongoing pledge of support from residents in the region, adding the donations are a true reflection of the importance of the program.
“We’re here to assure victims of crime and trauma that their feelings are valid. If we can be there for them (the victims) by lessening the emotional blow then we feel we’ve been successful in accomplishing something positive,” she said.
For more information on the Smoky River & District Victims’ Assistance Program, please contact Lauzé at the Falher FCSS office at 837-2220 or call the office based out of the McLennan RCMP detachment at 324-3693.