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Police support makes local victim service Ontario’s busiest

Published on

Pam Wright

Barb Stewart is good at keeping secrets.

She has to be. As a frontline volunteer with Victim Services of Sarnia-Lambton, Stewart is someone who helps others in their most tragic moments.

At the scene of a crime or sudden death, she’s there to lend a hand.

“People are in crisis and in shock,” she said. “We help in emotional and practical ways…we’re there to guide them through that time.”

Aside from debriefing with staff, she never discusses her experiences.

“I can’t talk to my friends about it,” Stewart said. “I’ve never once mentioned a call.”

The retired nurse has been a Victim Services volunteer for 15 years. Recently, she was formally recognized by the organization for her efforts.

Stewart carries a pager during her shift. When it goes off, she will meet a partner — volunteers never go alone — and travel to the scene. There, a police officer will disclose the details — be it a fire, suicide, or car accident.

It could also be domestic violence, a crime that accounts for 30% of calls.

It can be tough, Stewart says, but she enjoys it.

“I do know it’s a very helpful service.”

Executive director Samantha Matty feels the same way. Requests for help have been rising steadily, with the local agency having the highest rate of engagement of Ontario’s 43 victim services branches.

It doesn’t mean there’s more crime here, Matty notes. It’s because local law enforcement —including the Sarnia Police Service, Lambton OPP and Anishinabek Police — are behind the program.

“We have strong relations with police,” Matty explains. “They believe in us and they are here to help.”

Competition for volunteers is tough everywhere but Victim Services has some unique challenges. Volunteers must a make a one-year commitment and undergo rigorous screening and intensive training.

Integrity, compassion and the ability to be non-judgmental, are also required.

“If you have these three, we want you to apply.”

While providing practical assistance is vital, Matty says it’s not the most important task of the volunteer.

“We hold the space for people,” she notes. “We’re a listening ear and we are physically present.”

Victim Services faces another challenge. It has to provide around-the-clock service 365 days a year.

Currently, the province provides funding for three staff members. Matty says without volunteers it would take 18 full-timers to maintain current levels.

Typically, she says, two 40-hour trainings are held each year and applications can be made on the organization’s website.






























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