Volunteers for the Lethbridge Police Service Victim/Witness Services Unit (VWSU) were honoured with an apple tree and a plaque outside the police headquarters. LPS held a barbeque and celebration for the VWSU’s 30th anniversary, where the plaque was unveiled on June 23. The team also buried a time capsule, which is meant to be opened in another 30 years.
“Today the most special people are victim services and the volunteers who support this program,” said LPS Chief Shahin Mehdizadeh. “For sure I can say this is the best victim services unit I have ever seen in the dedication and passion that you show for your role and how you support this community and the victims of crime in this city.”
The VWSU team is currently driven by 47 volunteers and there have been a total of 526 people who have given their time to it in the past 30 years, according to Catherine Pooley, program manager of victim services.
“Our volunteers are incredibly well trained and ready to step in with answers to questions across the board for the criminal process so it’s incredible the impact it has because when you feel like you are alone in a system, it’s very hard to navigate it,” she said.
Grace Couturier has been a volunteer for 22 years and said the team fills a void in the justice system for victims and trauma survivors by being a person there to support them specifically.
“We have a shoulder for people to cry on; we have an ear so when people are talking to listen and we have the tools to give people, but only if they choose those tools. We don’t force anything on anybody because we don’t want to victimize our people,” Couturier said.
Pooley said the team will be taking on about 15 new volunteers in the fall. She said the process to get on the team is long because of the nature of the work. She adds there is a range of volunteers — students, some retired people and some people who just have big hearts and want to give back to the community.
“There’s incredible support between the different team members — we have a mentorship program to make sure that our people that have been here for 22 years are helping the people that have been here for two weeks and they learn together,” she said.