Victims Unit seeking volunteers – deadline Sept. 12

29 Aug

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 in the Hutto News

Want to help your community? This is not an easy way but it can be rewarding and is very necessary.

Whether helping find shelter for those displaced by fire, helping find services and comforting crime victims or informing someone of the death of a family member, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Department’s Victim Assistance Unit (VAU) does it all.

But now, they’re looking for additional volunteers to join the staff of approximately 40 trained volunteers specializing in crisis intervention for survivors, witnesses and families who have been traumatized by death, serious injury, crime or natural disaster.

A new training session is coming up in September. The deadline to apply is 5 p.m., Sept. 12. Classroom training is set for 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sept. 17 and 18.

Applications are available at the Williamson County website, wilco,org.

Volunteers must be at least 21 and, above all, must “have big hearts and are willing to help,” according to Victim Assistance Unit Volunteer Coordinator Julie Hobbs. Volunteers must also be able to pass a background check, have a valid Texas driver’s license and commit to one year of service.

“They provide something that was missing for a long time in the law enforcement world,” Hobbs said. “When someone responded to a call, whether for police, fire or EMS, or if something horrible had happened to a family, they left that scene filling like there was a missing piece. When the (VAU) was created, they were able to provide those services, fill in that missing piece.”

The volunteers of the VAU provide support and services for homicides, suicides, attempted suicides, natural death, death notifications, fires, child abuse, elder abuse, family violence, sexual assaults, traffic accidents, general welfare concerns, violent crimes and other natural disasters.

The volunteers respond to calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, helping people through the immediate crisis and through the first difficult hours afterward.

The volunteers remain with the victims in the immediate aftermath to provide temporary support and to provide referrals for further assistance, Hobbs said. The volunteers work with people in high-stress situations and often provide comfort or a shoulder to lean on, she noted.

“They have to be able to comfort someone and provide information and resources under very, very high-stress situations, which are often very emotional as well,” Hobbs said.

Volunteers don’t have to have a background in victim assistance — the department provides all the necessary training — but they do need to be good people who can help people, Hobbs said.

Volunteer Jerry Coffman of Thorndale didn’t have a background in assisting victims when he and his wife, Marlene, began volunteering five years ago.

“We had some free time and we saw a(an ad) about it at the theater there in Taylor,” Coffman said. “it sounded like something we wanted to do and so we looked in to it. We saw it was a very well-run program, so we got involved.”

Volunteers remain on call for 12-hour shifts one day a week, Coffman said. He is on call from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. every Friday, while Marlene is on call the same hours every Wednesday.

“It’s very rewarding, but you know when you go out on a call you’re helping someone on the worst day of their life,” Coffman said. “Whether they’ve been involved in an accident, or telling someone their loved one has died, or going out where someone has died, we never know exactly what we’re getting into.”

One recent example of what the VAU does was the recent fire in Leander in which 15 homes were destroyed and 189 more were damaged. Coffman said he was out there helping people get into shelters and getting them basic necessities.

“We’re involved in just about anything where we can help people,” Coffman said.

For more information or to obtain an application, call (512) 943-1374 or email juliehobbs@wilco.org.

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