Friday, June 26, 2015

Volunteers in Victim Assistance

It’s not like a job interview where you are able to prepare yourself for the future. You will never expect it to happen to you, and when it does, you probably won’t be prepared or mentally stable for the coming days, months, and years. No one expects to be a victim of violent crime, but in the unfortunate circumstance that violent crime does happen, Volunteers in Victim Assistance (VIVA) will be here for you.

“They can’t function, they can’t work, they can’t do anything,” says VIVA Executive Director Carole McDonald of crime victims. “They can be at a grocery store with a cart full of groceries and it hits, he’s never coming back again. The reality of what happened hits and that’s when they really need help.”

Located at 2020 Hurley Way in Sacramento, VIVA has been in operation under McDonald’s care for 32 years.

Crisis intervention, counseling, individual, family and group therapy, and advocacy are a few of the main services that VIVA offers. Their goal is to offer advocacy and therapy to anyone who walks through their door.

“They [victims] come in right after the crime takes place,” McDonald says. “They’re very confused, in shock, in the midst of funeral costs, and they have post-traumatic stress disorder. It takes a while to sink in.”

VIVA sees between six to ten patients a week – most of them coming at night due to jobs or school schedules during the day. Offering evening therapy is one aspect that makes them unique from other centers. VIVA doesn’t only offer therapy to adults, but to children as well.

“Children are so ignored when a crime happens in the family. They don’t know how to express themselves, they’re just so sad,” McDonald says. “They don’t know what words to articulate how they’re feeling, so they’ll say ‘fine, I feel fine.’”

The children’s program at VIVA utilizes therapy where children don’t have to explain their emotions verbally, but rather through the use of art therapy, sand tray therapy, and recreational therapy.

“Pretty soon these kids are running in the door like they’re coming to Disneyland, they can’t wait for their session. It’s wonderful to see that,” says McDonald.

VIVA provides counseling to victims until they are fully capable to continue life without it, but they don’t want people to become dependent on therapy on a regular basis.

“We want to help victims help themselves,” McDonald says. “We want them to feel like they can always call us or drop in, but we don’t want them to feel helpless.”

When VIVA partners with the California Victim Compensation Program (CalVCP), there is an allotted amount of time people can be seen, however, if the therapist feels like the victim needs to have additional counseling, they will get it.

“I absolutely love my job because we’re helping people. If we’re not helping people we shouldn’t be here,” says McDonald.

McDonald says VIVA is one of the only agencies in the area that provides therapy to all victims of crime rather than one certain crime in particular. They don’t often have a victim with a need they can’t take care of.

“There aren’t many agencies that do what we do – and that’s not bragging – that’s wishing there were more so victims of all violent crime could have a place to go,” says McDonald.

Hoping to open a satellite office in downtown Sacramento, McDonald says, “We want you to know that there are people in this community who dedicate their lives to help you get better, and it will get better. It will never go away, but it will get better. You’ll always have someone here to talk to.”

Carole McDonald is the founder and executive director of VIVA, which has been in existence for 32 years. She has dedicated her life to helping all victims of crime to ensure they can live life to the fullest after enduring a tragedy. In the future, Carole hopes to see more organizations open that can offer help to victims of ALL violent crime due to the great need in our community for victim services.