Victim Services volunteers offer support in traumatic times
Donna Blondeau still gets emotional when she sees a victim of crime or tragedy.
“My heart goes out to them because I realize at that time, at that point, their life is forever changed,” Blondeau, Moose Jaw and District Victim Services unit manager, told the Times-Herald.
She knows that whatever their situation, from the death of a loved one to being on the victim end of a break and enter, it’s a very difficult process for those involved.
“I think it’s hard for people to understand if they’ve never been in those shoes,” Blondeau said. “I think we understand that, and certainly we’re here to be open and non-judgmental and we don’t criticize people.”
Victim Services is a unit of the Moose Jaw Police Service (MJPS) but, aside from Blondeau, is staffed entirely by volunteers. They provide ongoing support, information and referral services to victims of crime or misfortune with the goal of restoring some sense of normalcy to their lives.
“Hopefully, at some point, they’ll be able to pick themselves up and carry on,” Blondeau said.
She credits the success of Victims Services to the support of the MJPS, RCMP, Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.
But Victims Services simply does not exist without volunteers.
“The volunteers amaze me, that they continue to be committed and motivated and want so much to help people. That’s what they’re here for,” Blondeau said. “You can talk to any one of them, and they’re going to tell you that: ‘that’s why I’m here.’”
Peggy became a Victim Services volunteer after reading an advertisement in the newspaper that caught her interest.
“I kind of found myself at loose ends and my kids were grown up and away,” Peggy said.
When she read the ad in 1998, she had no idea Victim Services existed, let alone what the group did. But the description entailed assisting victims of crime and tragic events.
“I was going through a bad time, myself,” Peggy said. “I thought how better to get my mind off myself and get my mind on other people.
“Basically that was it. It was to help other people and give myself an interest.”
The Times-Herald spoke to two of the current 11 Victim Services volunteers, Peggy and Debbie, under the condition their last names would be withheld to protect their anonymity within the community.
Debbie has volunteered since 2009. Before she joined, she had a comprehensive understanding of what Victims Services offered. She shared Peggy’s desire to help people.
“I don’t tend to attach myself to (victims) because I always stay in the mindset of ‘how can I help you?’” Debbie said. “‘Can I make you a cup of tea? Could I make a phone call? Can I just sit here quietly while you cry? Can I drive you to the hospital?’ That’s the best way for me.”
Volunteering for Victim Services can be emotionally demanding, even if it’s only the minimum one two-hour shift each week.
Debbie and Peggy agreed that dealing with the loved ones of a deceased person is the hardest situation to walk into as a stranger. Debbie said helping someone deal with death brings back personal experiences.
“Each situation is so different, you can’t really prepare yourself,” Debbie said. “If I do tend to get emotional, I would step out and try to clear my head, get out of my head and get back to helping them.”
The hardest part for Peggy is dealing with grieving children. She said she’s improved at handling grieving adults after 15 years, except when it’s parents dealing with the death of their child.
“You don’t have to come up with a solution for them, you just have to acknowledge that they’re going through that. If it’s a sudden death, all you need to say is ‘I am so sorry’ and ‘how can I help right now?’” Peggy said. “It took a while to get to that point.”
The work can take its toll.
Peggy doesn’t respond to call-outs anymore, but Debbie does.
They’re the type of calls that wake a volunteer from their sleep: sit with a victim of a car accident at the hospital, stay with a lost kid until the parents show up and, of course, dealing with the after-effects of death.
Those are only the immediate roles of Victim Services volunteers, they also provide ongoing support and information about the judicial process. Acting as a liaison between the victim and police can make a long and tedious process less frustrating for the victim.
When asked what the most rewarding part of 15 years of volunteering was, Peggy said, “when a person, through the help that they’ve got, ceases to be a victim.”
Blondeau said there’s no regular recruitment process to find volunteers like Peggy and Debbie. She talks to different groups in the community and people on committees that she’s a member of.
Post-secondary students and people new to Moose Jaw have volunteered, Blondeau said. The erratic recruiting creates a diverse group of people.
“We have students, homemakers, people who are retired and people who work full-time,” Blondeau said. “It’s been very interesting for me, working with volunteers. To see a group of people from the community that are so motivated to come in here on a regular basis. They just want to help people. It’s very moving.
“This has continued for the 19 years that I’ve been here.”
Blondeau was hired in February 1994, before she was done her last semester of a psychology major.
Like Peggy, Blondeau saw an advertisement in the paper looking for a manager to start Victim Services. Before she was hired, the service didn’t exist in Moose Jaw.
“The thing that intrigued me most about the (job) was that I knew nothing about it,” Blondeau said.
In 1994, the only support programs in the province were in Regina, Saskatoon and Yorkton, she said.
“Now there are 18 programs in the province of Saskatchewan,” Blondeau said. “It’s taken off. In my opinion, it’s done extremely well.”
Follow Austin M. Davis on Twitter @theaustinx.