Volunteerism has been always in the nature of Eileen Bethune, so providing emotional support to victims of crime or tragic circumstances is at the very top of her list.
“In general, I do love to volunteer because I love to enrich my community. But with victim services, it was a very personal thing,” said Bethune, who volunteers with Victim Services of Simcoe County, under the auspices of Barrie police.
Bethune’s first involvement with the program was actually as a recipient about 10 years ago, when her uncle died unexpectedly in his late 60s.
“My mom was traumatized and I couldn’t get to her for about six hours because of work. When I got home, there were two volunteers with her and that really touched me," Bethune said.
A couple of years later, Bethune responded to a call for new volunteers and joined the program, which involved an extensive training with classes online and in-person.
Bethune says she has participated in a number of very difficult calls.
“When you volunteer with victims services, it’s never good news when they call you, right?”
Helping people cope with traumatizing experiences, such as a suicide or sudden death, is always challenging, but can be gratifying as well, she said.
Bethune recalled two stories in particular, when she met a mom and a husband who were grieving the loss of their respective loved ones to an accidental overdose.
“Both of those people were so grateful to me and my partner, because they were able to tell their whole story from start to finish and tell us how much we help them," she said.
Bethune also noted the critical role played by the support service in a bigger societal context.
“You can imagine how busy the police are when they come to your house and tell you that there's been a tragedy," she said. "They don't have the time, but we as volunteers can go in and listen to that story.”
Every time the police are attending a call involving death, they report to the victim services office and a team leader offers the person's family resources to support them.
“Most times, they do want to have someone be with them," Bethune said. "Sometimes, (it's) not right away as they want time to call their family and that sort of thing. But at some point, they usually do want us to come and listen to them.”
To some extent, the arrival of the victim support team frees up the police to go on to other urgent calls.
“We sort of bridge that gap between the emergency people and the family arriving,” explained Bethune, adding victims services are always accessed by a police referral.
Sometimes, the service is provided on site. And sometimes, especially if it involves a domestic assault, which accounts for about 40 per cent of the calls, the service is provided in a safe place, often at the police station.
Bethune said each visit touches her in a different way. Suicide calls and a sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) are among the hardest experiences.
“(There's) very little we can do except to be there to offer and to give them resources, or to make them a cup of tea until family arrives," she said.
Bethune feels particularly impressed by how resilient victims can be.
“Most of these people have just gone through the most horrible thing they could imagine. I'm in awe that these people can put one foot in front of the other and keep going," she said.
Bethune said she can't say enough about how valuable she finds the role of assisting people at their worst, because they'd been victimized and need to start climbing back up.
“If we help people at the right time, like children that are traumatized, there will be less issues going forward," she said.
Victim Services of Simcoe County consists of a one-time visit, but additional support, such us therapy sessions, are available for victims who qualify for the Victim Quick Response Program (VQRP), offered through the Ministry of the Attorney General's office.