Sturgeon Victim Services reaches milestone

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Sturgeon Victim Services Program Coordinator Donna McPherson spins a prize wheel in the entrance of Town Hall Monday afternoon. The spin to win game was part of an awareness booth the organization is taking to municipalities in recognition of their 20th anniversary. – Stephen Dafoe Photo

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Cake was cut, wheels were spun, and plenty of information was presented in the entrance of Town Hall Monday afternoon. Sturgeon Victim Services (SVS) have been making the rounds of the municipalities they serve in recognition of providing those services for the past two decades.

Program Coordinator Donna McPherson said victim services have existed in the province for 30 years. The Sturgeon Victim Services unit has been around for two thirds of that time. “We’re one of the longer-running programs that is in the province she said, adding there are approximately 72 victim services units operating in the province.

SVS operates out of the Morinville RCMP Detachment and offers their services to Morinville, Legal, Bon Accord, Gibbons, Alexander First Nation and Sturgeon County.

McPherson, who has been with SVS for the past 16 years, has been travelling to the organization’s municipalities with a little celebratory cake to cut, a prize wheel to spin, and a desire to make people aware of what the organization does.

“There’s lots of people who don’t know about the services,” she said, adding one of the things SVS is trying to do is raise the organization’s profile. “It’s one of those programs that it is hard to tell people what the benefit of the program is unless they themselves are a victim or know somebody who is.”

Three key areas of service

McPherson said one of the areas SVS deals with is mischief and vandalism. She said many people are unaware of the things victims of property crime are entitled to under provincial legislation. “We keep them aware of what’s going on with the court process, what’s going on with the charges,” she said, adding they also provide valuable information on home security tips to help prevent residents from becoming the victims of such crimes.

Another area where SVS lends a hand is in the area of domestic assaults by providing information on legal resources, child custody and financial assistance if the victim is leaving their partner. “We can provide information on all of those resources, and give them connection with the agencies that best do those processes for them,” McPherson said. “The big piece in there is dealing with the application for the protection orders as well as providing safety strategies for them so that they are not going to necessarily get provoked again. A lot of times the relationships aren’t ending; they’re going back to living in the same household.”

If charges are laid, SVS assists the victim through the court process, apprising the victim of what is happening with charges, and preparing them with what to expect on the witness stand if they are required to testify against their abuser.

Although much of what SVS deals with is rather unpleasant, one area where they play a key role in dealing with unpleasant matters is accompanying RCMP to homes where news of a sudden death must be presented. “We go with the officer. The officer walks in the door, lets the family know what’s happened, [then] the officer leaves and we stay behind to do whatever we can for the family,” McPherson explained. “Sometimes that is as simple as making coffee or tea or helping them make phone calls. Sometimes it is telling a child somebody has died when the adults don’t have the words to do it.”

The assistance in all cases often extends beyond the immediate needs of the victim. In the case of a sudden death report, family members are made aware of what to expect in the grieving process, the various stages they will go through as they come to terms with the tragic news.

“Any time we are on a crisis call, we’re not just saying, ‘OK, we’re done with you.’ We keep phoning them for as long as they need us, offering them whatever we can,” McPherson said.

Volunteers needed

But while the organization offers help to those in need, they have a few needs of their own.

McPherson said the largely volunteer-run organization has two levels of volunteer: advocates, those who meet one-on-one with the victims, and general volunteers who serve on the board or become involved with fundraising and other non-victim aspects of the operation.

SVP currently has nine volunteer advocates. Ideally, McPherson would like between 12 and 16. The process takes time because all advocates must go through an RCMP criminal records check and security clearance, a process currently taking up to nine months.

Board members do not require the security clearance as they are not dealing with clients. McPherson said the 11-member board is currently short three board members. Five of the current eight members on the board joined the organization in June. “It’s nice to get the new blood and new ideas coming in,” she said, adding training is provided by the organization.

Advocates have some additional provincial-level training mandated by the Alberta Solicitor General’s office. Participants have four months to complete the provincial online course. “It gives them a broad base of general knowledge of anything and everything,” McPherson said. “We do the practical in-house training ourselves.”

For more information on Sturgeon Victim Services, contact Donna McPherson at 780-939-4590 or visit their website at sturgeonvictimservices.org.

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