Three cheers for volunteers.
The Rainy River District Victim Services Program (RRDVSP) held a volunteer appreciation dinner Monday evening at the Fort Frances Senior Centre. Close to two dozen volunteers, employees and community partners attended to celebrate the work volunteers have put into the program to make it a success.
RRDVSP program manager Peggy Loyie said that the volunteers who work with the program go above and beyond what’s expected of them.
“What we ask is a minimum of two 12-hour shifts a month,” she explained.
“Our volunteers provide us with way more time than that. We have some who will do three weekends a month.”
For those who may be unfamiliar with the program and the work it does in the district, the RRDVSP uses trained volunteers to support and assist anyone who has been a victim of crime or trauma.
“The volunteers respond to calls, from either police service, whether it’s OPP or Treaty #3 Police services, or calls from the hospital, to just provide some really, really practical assistance,” Loyie said.
“Say there’s been a motor vehicle accident where there’s been a fatality and people are gathering at the hospital. Our volunteers will go and they will do whatever they need. They’ll get coffee for everybody. They’ll keep people informed as much as they can.”
Mariette McRae has been volunteering her time with RRDVSP for a few years. She said that the service provided by the program is so widespread there’s no telling what kind of situation volunteers might be called in to assist with.
“We only get called by the police or the hospital as a general rule, they give usually a bit of an idea what we’ll be looking for when we get there,” McRae explained.
“We don’t really have an agenda–we just look to the people and see how we can help them. Sometimes you have to help them phone relatives, sometimes they’re just hungry and haven’t eaten in the last couple of days.”
“Sometimes we’ll have a kid that’s come from out of town and is out of money for one reason or other and has no way to get home,” she continued.
“We help with those kind of things.”
McRae also said that while she doesn’t think anyone volunteering with the organization is doing it for praise, she does appreciate the board taking the effort to recognize their work by way of the dinner.
The program has been in the area for more than a decade, with their office opening at 334 Scott St. in 2007. Loyie, who began working with RRDVSP as a volunteer before becoming program manager, said that the biggest change since its early days is the understanding that’s developed between the program and district police.
“I think it was important that the police knew we’re not there to do an investigation,” Loyie said.
“We’re just there to look after the people while the police are doing the work, because they have hearts too. They see somebody in crisis, but they have a job to do, so the program allows them to do what they need to do, and then we look after the individual as best we can.”
As a longtime OPP officer, and now the chair of the RRDVSP board of directors, Hugh Dennis has first-hand knowledge of how valuable the program is to district police officers.
“We are blessed to be able to work with the OPP and Treaty #3 and they’re blessed to have us here,” Dennis said.
“I was with the OPP before Victim Services was created, and they provide a service to the victim of crime that we didn’t have for the first 20 years I was a police officer,” he added.
“I think that’s a huge point: Victim Services allows the police to do much more with respect to investigation and so forth, because Victim Services helps the victims of crime and tragedy.”
It’s a point that was echoed by the three police services that operate in the Rainy River District.
Representatives from the OPP, Treaty #3 Police and CN Police were on hand at the appreciation dinner, and each of them reinforced Dennis’ sentiments of the value of the RRDVSP in their jobs.
“As a police officer, it would be very difficult to function without the assistance of Victim Services,” said Sgt. Rene Pitrement of Treaty #3.
“At times police officers have to go call-to-call-to-call, unfortunately, and as a police officer we feel kind of responsible. We want to do the follow-up to make sure that the victims are safe, but if there’s no Victim Services there, then it’s hard to ensure their safety.”
Sgt. Pitremont said that a benefit provided by the program is bringing victims to a safe, quiet room that is removed from the scene of a crime, or the pressures of a police station.
“We’re able to talk to the victims there, rather than bringing the victims to a police station where we’re holding the bad guy or the person that assaulted the potential victim,” he explained.
“We don’t want to have them in the same room where they feel a little uncomfortable.”
CN Police Const. Pete LeDrew, who’s also a RRDVSP board member, noted that one of the first things they do in the event of an incident on CN property is contact Victim Services.
“Unfortunately, anything that involves the railway is traumatic and these people need some help with it,” Const. LeDrew explained.
“When a situation happens–if it’s with Treaty #3, OPP, anything–the first thing you need is support for the victims. We’ve got our job to do, and we can concentrate on getting things taken care of, but the main thing is we have kind of our backup, and they’re volunteers, to come and help and take care of these people that are traumatized.”
Rainy River OPP detachment commander Insp. Nathan Schmidt said he was impressed with how readily his officers reached out to RRDVSP when he first started his job in Fort Frances a little over a year ago.
“Our officers are constantly doing referrals,” Insp. Schmidt said.
“We do referrals for all kinds of things. So I committed to continued to maintain that and part of me being here tonight is just to help promote it and support all the volunteers, because they are volunteers. That is very difficult to get nowadays.
“They should be appreciated and thanked for the job that they do for us,” he added.
A common thread brought up by each of the police services is just how frequently they rely on Victim Services, and Dennis is worried that as budget cuts made by the PC government are felt across multiple sectors, similar cuts or consolidating Victim Services to save money could negatively impact their ability to provide support.
“The service provided by the Rainy River District Victim Services covers the entire Rainy River District,” Dennis said.
“I want to ensure Victim Services, because of our geography, because of our workload, stays a standalone Rainy River District group, just like Kenora needs their group, and Sioux Lookout needs their group.”
As RRDVSB covers all of the municipalities between Atikokan and Rainy River, along with nine First Nations communities, any consolidations with neighbouring Victim Services groups would drastically increase the coverage zone.
“Think about it,” Dennis challenged.
“The geographic area is huge. I’m very, very hopeful that the Ministry of the Attorney General recognizes we need to stay as we are as far as the numbers of Victim Services”
Dennis and Const. LeDrew also highlighted the need for additional volunteers to help keep up services.
“We don’t have enough volunteers,” LeDrew said.
“We’d love to have more. They’re the reason this program’s going, and it’s like everything else you have in the community, you can’t run without volunteers. Where we have our big success is we’ve had volunteers that have stuck around for a long time.”
Loyie said that anyone interested in volunteering with RRDVSB is invited to call their office at 274-5687.
“We lay it all out up front, because they need training, and we would do that,” Loyie said.
“Most likely though–and we have done this–is say, ‘If you want to talk to one of our volunteers, we’ll have one call you.’ They’ll just let them know about their own experience and what it’s been like, what the calls are like, because they range in intensity.”
While McRae acknowledged the calls volunteers respond to can be difficult, the work of supporting those in need can be rewarding.
“I love doing it,” she shared.
“We’re supplementary; we’re just helping people as much as we can. It’s nice.”