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Victim Services Wellington seeks Wellington County volunteers

Victim Services Wellington seeks Wellington County volunteers

by Jaime Myslik

FERGUS - When people are experiencing their very worst time after a crime or a tragic circumstance, it’s Victim Services Wellington volunteers that provide the needed support, information and services to help the victim through those first few hours.

“We work in partnership with emergency services,” Victim Services Wellington executive director Liz Kent said. “About 95 per cent of our referrals come from the (Wellington County) OPP.

“At any given time we should have around 40 volunteers in our county.”

However, right now the organization has about half of its desired number of county volunteers, sitting at 21 as of April 9.   

“I’ve been here for 17 years and I can count, literally, on one hand how many calls that we have not been able to assist with and we’ve had two calls now in the last couple of weeks where we haven’t been able to send volunteers,” Kent said. “One was a fire call in Palmerston and we called in Red Cross and Red Cross was able to assist because they help with fires but we weren’t able to send volunteers.

“So that doesn’t sit well with me.”

She said the organization is looking for volunteers in both the northern and southern parts of Wellington County so that there are Victim Services representatives who can make it to calls quickly in all areas.

Ideally, Kent said, there are two volunteers scheduled in Guelph and two volunteers scheduled in Wellington County 24 hours a day, seven days a week to help victims.

Volunteers are asked to work four shifts a month and are able to schedule their shifts, which run from 7am to 3pm, 3pm to 11pm or 11pm to 7am. Volunteers attend scenes in pairs, meeting before they go to the site. The volunteers are on call during their shift but they can go about their everyday activities as long as their cell phone is available, they have access to a vehicle and they stay in their local area.

However, if Victim Services is called and the volunteers who are on call don’t live close to the scene but there is a volunteer who lives in the area. Kent said the area volunteer who is not on call may be called to assist because they will be able to get to the victim sooner.

“We let people know right off the bat, if you’re not signed up you’ll probably still get a phone call and it’s okay to say ‘no,’” Kent said.

“It’s fine to say ‘no’ but on that chance that you’re available to go, we’re going to ask you to go.”

That’s why it’s important to have representatives living throughout the county.

Volunteers go through a thorough training. All 48 Victims Services throughout Ontario require volunteers to complete the same e-learning training but each agency enhances training with local community partners.

“For an example we do a lot of referrals to Women in Crisis, domestic violence,” Kent said. “We would have (Women in Crisis) come in and do some training around sexual assault and domestic violence.

“They’re the experts on that, so they come in.”

Volunteers are then provided with a handbook that lists all the possible services available to victims of a variety of circumstances and gives the volunteer a list of things to pay attention to when they’re on specific calls.

“People honestly have no idea how many services are available, because if you’ve never needed them, you don’t know,” Kent said.

“So our volunteers are pretty well trained on what referrals we have and then to make sure that the victims get to the referrals they need.”

Kent also said volunteers either talk to a funeral home or go to a funeral home and go through what happens from when someone passes away to the time of the funeral so they can better explain the process to victims.

Sudden death is one of Victim Services’ highest calls, Kent said.

The volunteers will explain about the coroner process and can provide a grief package, which lists all the funeral homes in Wellington County and Guelph.

“Providing someone with a list of funeral homes is such a simple thing to do but the feedback that we’ve gotten from just that simple task has been huge,” Kent said.

“So when somebody is not sure what the next step is, just giving them that next step eases their anxiety a whole bunch.”

As an example she said volunteers were called to the scene when the husband of an 80-year-old woman passed away from a heart attack on the side of the road when the couple was driving from Kingston to Collingwood to see the leaves change. The woman’s family lived in Ottawa, so Victim Services volunteers drove the woman half way to Ottawa to meet her family.

“Little things like that make a huge difference,” Kent said. “She probably would have been sitting in that waiting room for eight or nine hours, which is huge, especially at that age.

“In that situation the volunteers may work with the family to contact the funeral home to make arrangements to transport the body back to Kingston.”

Volunteers do what they can to help the victim through a difficult time whether it’s sitting at the hospital, answering questions or directing them to funding.

When out on a call volunteers are supported by a team leader who is always available and if they are unable to answer questions there is always a staff member available as well.

While the role isn’t for everyone, Kent said it is rewarding.

“There are some calls you walk away from and you’re like ‘I made a difference in that person’s life, a huge difference,’” she said. “I think a lot of people get the satisfaction that they’re helping.

“The hard part is you’re seeing people at ... their very worst time so you know that it’s only going to get better from that moment so being able to look at you’re the one who helped get them through that is pretty neat.”

Victim Services Wellington is funded by the Ministry of the Attorney General and receives $186,000 for the Victim Crisis Assistance Program. Volunteers are vital to the program’s success.

“We wouldn’t be here without them, that’s the bottom line,” Kent said. “Almost 40,000 hours a year, approximately, are covered with volunteers, so there’s no way that we could provide the service that we provide without them.     

“When our volunteers go on call ... I’m confident with the experience that they’ve had and the backgrounds they’ve had and the training they’ve had it’s just as good as having a staff person on.”

To learn more about Victim Services Wellington and to sign up to be a volunteer visit, call the Teviotdale OPP office at 519-417-1235 or call the Guelph office at 519-824-1212 ext. 7304.



April 13, 2018


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