April 28, 2004 – The defunct agency of volunteers who went out at all hours of the day and night to assist victims of crime is getting new life through another St. Thomas agency that's best known for helping victims of domestic violence.
Family Resource Center officials say the inclusion of victim advocates as part of their outreach has received significant support from the community in the form of the volunteers who have signed on to help with the program.
The advocates provide support for victims of crime in various ways, but especially in accompanying them through often-confusing or intimidating procedures in the health-care and criminal-justice systems.
Michal Rhymer-Charles, Family Resource Center executive director, said the move to enfold the Victim Advocates program began around 2002, shortly before the agency shut its doors after 20 years. The services were incorporated by 2003. Volunteers receive 15 hours of training on providing direct assistance to victims, many of whom are to be found in police stations and hospitals.
"Victims need help 24 hours a day, and our staff — a hard working staff as we are — put in a long work day," Rhymer-Charles said. "We just needed to get some supplementary help, and the volunteer victim advocates have really filled that gap."
Victim Advocates served St. Thomas and St. John as an all volunteer agency. It's head, Lynn Falkenthal, called it quits in 2002 after an unsuccessful bid to gain government funding to pay a full-time staff person.
Law-enforcement officials, particularly some at the V.I. Justice Department, called the closing of the agency a loss to the community. And they wondered who would step in to assist crime victims trying to cope with the legal and medical systems in times of crisis.
Efforts to revive the victim advocacy program got a boost last year when Cynthia Farmer, a three-year veteran of the former agency, came back to the Virgin Islands and joined the Family Resource Center staff as volunteer coordinator.
Rhymer-Charles said Farmer was instrumental in making the volunteer training effective and in helping to publicize the expansion of services at Family Resource Center.
"I knew we really needed someone to take over the victim advocate program, and Cynthia was very much an ideal person because she knew the routine of victim advocates, she was very dedicated, and we knew she would do a good job," "Rhymer-Charles said.
"What I brought with me was a look from outside — and together we brought things together," Farmer said on Tuesday. "The psychologists on staff here and victim advocates have been doing this for years at Family Resource Center. We brought our tools together, and I think we're going to go forward in a positive way."
Some 10 to 12 volunteers sign up every month for training as victim advocates. Once trained, they serve 12-hour shifts on call.
According to Farmer, Family Resource Center receives two or three calls a week for victim advocacy from police and other emergency service agencies.
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