July 20th, 2024

Volunteer Week: When tragedy strikes, the Victim Assistance Unit is on the scene

By Mo Cranker on April 25, 2017.

NEWS PHOTO MO CRANKER Medicine Hat Police Service Victim Assistance Unit volunteers Valerie Maconochie, Brenda Taylor and Jim Grossman pose for a photo outside of the unit's office at the MHPS headquarters. The unit is made up of 34 volunteers, with 12 more joining it in the near future.

mcranker@medicinehatnews.com @MHNmocranker

For about 30 years, the Medicine Hat Police Service’s Victim Assistance Unit has been employing volunteers to aid and assist people who experience trauma every day.

According to program manager Bobbi Jo Walker, there is only two full-time employees with the Victim Assistance Unit, as well as two part-time employees and a service dog. The rest of the team is made up of 34 volunteers who work in 12-hour, on-call shifts throughout the week, with 12 more volunteers currently training to join the team.

“We are the human side of the police,” said Walker. “When someone experiences some sort of tragedy, that’s where we come in.”

When the MHPS is called to a crime scene, the VAU is often called in later to assist the families or friends who experienced tragedy. The group also does follow-up calls and court trips with people, which totals about 1,500 files each year.

The News caught up with three members of the Victim Assistance Unit, who told their stories on how and why they got involved with the program.

Brenda Taylor

At every workplace, there’s always that one person who has been around since the place opened.

For the Victim Assistance Unit, that is Brenda Taylor.

Taylor will be reaching the 27-year mark with the unit this September, and she says she was simply looking for something to do when she signed up in 1990.

“I was a stay-at-home mom and my husband traveled a lot for work, so when my children got older I looked around and found the victim program with the MHPS,” she said. “I really can’t picture what my life would be like if I had not found this program.”

In the near-three decades Taylor has spent volunteering her time for the MHPS, she says she has just about seen it all with the Victim Assistance Unit.

“I’ve helped so many families and I’ve experienced and dealt with my own troubles and I have just found that you can quietly make a huge difference in peoples’ lives.”

Taylor says when the MHPS started the unit, it was seen as controversial, because it was relying on unpaid employees, but now, she says the unit is a must have for the police service.

“I think we have a calming aura about us, and it’s something unique we offer to a crime scene,” she said. “When a crime scene is full of men and women in uniform, it can be very stressful to have them going through their house, so seeing a regular person showing up can really make a big difference — distressed people are usually happy to see just a regular person show up and talk with them.”

As for quitting, Taylor says she doesn’t see it happening in the near-future.

“I don’t have any reason to not be here, so I’m still here,” she said. “I still have a connection with people I’ve helped over the years — it’s been special.”

Jim Grossman

Going from loud classrooms with constant noise, to quiet one-on-one chats and court room visits was a bit of a transition says Jim Grossman.

“I’m a recently retired teacher who was just looking to fill some time in my life,” he said. “I went from loud classrooms full of students to sometimes sitting silently with victims of horrible crimes — it was an adjustment for sure.”

Now around his three-year mark with the Victim Assistance Unit Grossman says he was happy he decided to take a tour of the new MHPS headquarters.

“I just decided to take a tour of the new building and it ended up changing my life I guess,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed helping people navigate the system, going to court with them and just helping in any way I can.”

During his time with the unit, Grossman says he has learned a lot about human beings.

“Humans are very resilient,” he said. “We see a lot of people at their absolute worst, and as you progress with them, you get to see their growth and that is huge — people are far stronger than they think they are.”

Grossman says there is not one part of the job he can pick as his favourite, he says it is just seeing people turn things around that keeps him coming back as a volunteer.

“I love seeing people coming out the other side,” he said. “Seeing the growth from tears and hopelessness, to building up the strength and confidence back is amazing.”

Valerie Maconochie

Like other volunteers, Valerie Maconochie was looking to get back into the workforce after leaving it to raise her children.

“I was a stay-at-home mom and as my kids got older and started to get their independence, I had an itch to get into the work force,” she said. “I saw an ad in the paper about this program and one thing lead to another and now I’m here.”

As a member now for three years, Maconochie says she enjoys offering a wide-range of services to people going through tough times.

“We’re basically information with legs that can help you get in touch with services and to be where you need to be” she said. “A large part of our job is getting people the resources we think they’ll need to turn things around.”

For Maconochie one of the best parts of the job is the variety that it offers.

“I love that every day is different — it’s never the same,” she said. “You can pick a file that’s similar to something you’ve dealt with in the past, but I can guarantee that it will be a new experience every time — it keeps it really fresh.”

For Maconochie, she says there is no better job for her.

“When I started doing this, I started doing file work and I just realized it was a perfect fit — I really enjoy it and love what I do.”

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