Gazing into an empty volunteer office at the new Prince Albert RCMP building, Rhonda Durand is putting a call out to community stewards.
Helping victims of crime and other traumatic circumstances, the Prince Albert Regional Victims Services co-ordinator said that with a growing stack of files, the more volunteers the non-profit organization gets, the more people they can help.
“The program is kind of in a rebuilding stage right now, because of the lack of volunteers,” she said, noting that the Prince Albert office is currently without any volunteers.
The cornerstone of the organization consists of volunteers helping victims, be they victims of a break-and-enter, assault either physical or sexual, a family member’s sudden death, or another such crisis situation, legal or otherwise.
“We’re not a counselling service, but we’re a referral service,” Durand explained. “So, we assess the immediate as well as the long-term needs of the victim, regardless of what the offense was.”
Although for most people, a break-and-enter won’t necessarily merit Victims Services intervention, for others it may be particularly traumatic.
For “an elderly person trying to live independently … that can be really disheartening and cause high anxiety,” Durand explained.
With volunteers on call 24/7, should they opt to do so, they can respond directly to the scene of crisis, offering their assistance from day one.
“For example, a domestic violence situation, we would respond with police -- their job always being first and foremost … but we would maybe work with the victim and with children being removed from that situation,” Durand explained.
Volunteers help in various capacities, from helping victims file paperwork, providing them rides, linking them up with various organizations -- it’s such a wide range, Durand said that it expands on a daily basis.
With Prince Albert Regional Victims Services covering a large area that includes Smeaton, Wakaw, Spiritwood, Big River, 11 First Nations communities and everything in between, for some of the more isolated residences, volunteers are their only contacts outside of law enforcement.
The program is kind of in a rebuilding stage right now, because of the lack of volunteers. - Prince Albert Regional Victims Services co-ordinator Rhonda Durand
“Sometimes following a victim can be literally years of commitment,” Durand said. “So having that familiar person remain with you, right from when you were notified from when your loved one has been a victim of a homicide, to that day in court where that person is finally sentenced, that’s a relationship that can be very emotional, but it can also be very rewarding.”
Those interested in volunteering should be prepared to commit between three and four hours per week, as well as take part in training, she said, noting that work schedules and personal commitments can be worked around in many cases.
The first step is an extensive background check, required due to the delicate and confidential nature of the work.
In addition to their call out for volunteers, Prince Albert Regional Victims Services is also looking for donations to help fill the soft room that came with their move to the new Prince Albert RCMP detachment in October.
“We’ve gone from one tiny little office where we had to do everything that we did with victims in that one space, to now having this whole chunk of the building devoted to just victim services,” Durand said.
The soft room is currently a normal-looking office, but by the end of its renovation Durand hopes to see it become “less intimidating,” Durand said.
By the end, she hopes to see it become a space “where victims of (a loved one’s) sudden death, domestic violence or child sexual assault can come in and do their statements without feeling that they are in a sterile police environment.”
So far, Malcolm Jenkins from Canadian Tire has donated a couple bins of children’s toys, but Durand notes that a couch and other comforts are still being sought.
Durand encourages anyone interested in volunteering or helping out Prince Albert Regional Victim Services in another capacity, at either 765-5574 or by email at email@example.com.