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Police looking for a few good people.

THUNDER BAY

Although their most recent recruitment drive for volunteers netted about one-third Aboriginal candidates, the Victim Crisis Assistance and Referral Service (VCARS) in Thunder Bay says recruitment will be ongoing all this year.

Program assistant Cynthia Hagerty explained that Thunder Bay's population is 35 per cent Aboriginal, and in the last while they have been getting calls to assist from the Anishinabek Police Service, over and above the calls they responded to before, which means the numbers of Aboriginal people they see who are victims of crime or who have experienced a tragic event is significant.

Hagerty said they are trying to operate a culturally sensitive service for the public.

"Because we never know who the victim is going to be, we want to reach out to as many diverse communities and ethnic backgrounds to make sure our pool of volunteers matches the need, that we can draw from that to meet whatever scenario that comes up."

The current drive has resulted in 45 people expressing interest, about one-third of them Aboriginal. Not all have sent their completed application forms in yet, however.

Following the pre-screening of applications, the next group of VCARS volunteers starts a 40-hour training session at the police station in Thunder Bay on March 9. Upon completion of the training, they will work in pairs to help people in crisis, as directed by police services.

It's challenging to attract and retain volunteers, Hagerty said, because of several factors.

When a completed application form comes in, it is followed by pre-screening process that involves reference checks, police record checks and a personal interview.

"It's quite a rigorous prescreening before they actually get accepted for our training," said Hagerty.

Applicants need to have a clean police record, access to a licensed and insured vehicle, be age 18 or over, and "have some flexibility, because the training is very extensive.

"That's the initial crunch. It's got 40 hours of training and we try to do it in as short a time period as possible, so we try to do it two nights a week ... depending on the availability of our speakers and so on."

The sessions are "very intensive-three-and-a-half to four hours. And there's always at least one full-day Saturday incorporated into the training. It's a very heavy duty commitment for the initial training.

"After that, we request them to commit to two, 12-hour shifts per month and a monthly meeting, after they've actually graduated."

Training is mandated by the Ministry of the Attorney General, so it is compulsory.

Eighty per cent of the time, Hagerty said, the volunteers have to go out to a scene to support a victim, which is why they need a vehicle.

The police service screens each situation for safety before they call VCARS requesting a pair of volunteers be dispatched to support someone. They also obtain the consent of the victim. Hagery said volunteers never go out alone. The police ensure there is no threat, alcohol or weapons involved, nor an "irate victim that cannot be calmed down with a conversation."

Examples of what the volunteers do is "anything from helping them clean up, depending on the circumstance, to providing referrals of specific services in the area, giving them consolation, holding their hand, helping them through those specific moments of time that they need help. Possibly providing them with transport to the hospital."

VCARS, which has provided victim support since Dec. 1, 2002, operates with three paid staff and 40 volunteers. Hagerty said they want to increase the volunteers to 60 or 70. In last fall's recruitment drive, she said they had quite a small group apply and make it through the pre-screening process.

"Volunteers come and go, so we try to keep our numbers up at all times."

For more information on VCARS training, e-mail vcars@tbaytel.net or telephone Wendy at 684-1374.

BY JOAN TAILLON

Birchbark Writer
COPYRIGHT 2004 Aboriginal Multi-Media Society of Alberta (AMMSA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:COMMUNITY
Author:Taillon, Joan
Publication:Ontario Birchbark
Date:Feb 1, 2004
Words:647
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