Archived Story

Local victims’ advocate group gaining ground

Published 8:43am Saturday, November 14, 2009

By JESSICA SIEFF

Niles Daily Star

In an emergency – a fatal accident, a fire, the aftermath of a crime or domestic dispute the atmosphere can seem chaotic.

There are police and emergency personnel and questions pertaining to investigations.

And for victims and families there is fear and confusion.

But a group of volunteers are working to become a resource for victims, citizen advocates for their fellow citizens.

Right now, the Victims Services Unit is merely an item on the agenda of the Berrien County Board of Commissioners but president of the group, Walter Zych, is hoping that with the help of some generous donators that the unit will get the resources and equipment it needs to help victims in their time of need.

“We need funding to start this unit up,” Zych said Friday.

Items that he’s hoping to acquire include clothing with specialized lettering so members of the unit can be recognized on scene, flashlight, blankets and rain coats and items for children who might be at the scene of an accident or incident like coloring books and crayons.

“We are immediate responders to our police department,” Zych said.

As police respond to the scene of a crime or emergent situation, Zych said the Victim Services Unit, which would work in groups of two, would also arrive on scene to handle victims while police proceed with their investigation.

The volunteers would work with victims, family and friends by answering questions and providing information on area services and programs that might be of use.

In short, they are the advocates for those who might be left waiting and wondering while police handle the situation at hand.

And these days, Zych said, that kind of help is in great need.

Police departments and other emergency response units are stretched for personnel in some areas.

“They really don’t have the time to deal with the victims of that or the families,” Zych said.

A total of 14 volunteers, made up of retirees, husband and wife teams and working citizens have taken part in 20 hours of training required by the Michigan Sheriff’s Association to be a part of the unit.

“We also have 10 more people very interested in the program,” he said.

As the program tries to get off the ground, it is seeing some support. An undisclosed amount of money is to be officially transferred to the unit donated by Whirlpool Corp. according to an upcoming agenda of the Board of Commissioners. Zych said he also had applied to various grants that he was hoping to see awarded.

The unit, he added would work within the entire county. Zych currently serving as president has been working with others in getting the project off the ground since May.

His wife, Shirley is also working with the program as co-director.

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