Muskoka Victim Services Seeks Additional Volunteer Crisis Responders

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Muskoka Victim Services: Today, tragedy will change someone's life... forever. Let's be there for them.
Graphic courtesy of Michelle Whaley

Muskoka Victim Services is a quiet but mighty force in the region, offering immediate assistance to victims of crime and tragedy, and they’re looking for additional volunteer crisis responders to help them deliver emotional and practical support to people across Muskoka.

Muskoka Victim Services provides on-site assistance to people impacted by crime, personal or family crises, abuse and more. They offer emotional support while also connecting victims with long-term resources and services in the community. The team behind the organization includes a handful of staff members, a volunteer Board of Directors, and a crew of volunteer team leaders and crisis responders. Michelle Whaley, program coordinator for Muskoka Victim Services, said because they have a full-time staff of just three people, volunteers play a critical role in providing services.

“They are very instrumental in delivering that initial needs assessment and support,” Whaley said. “It’s all about the emotional and practical support to all victims of crime and tragic circumstances and receiving that support immediately following a tragedy can really impact their recovery moving forward.”

Volunteers need to be at least 19 years old, must be able to pass a Vulnerable Sector Check and need to possess a driver’s license with access to a safe and reliable vehicle. After submitting their applications, successful applicants will undergo about 40 hours of online training and around five to seven hours of in-person training. 

The online training includes information on how to handle all kinds of scenarios ranging from domestic violence and sudden death to fires and home invasion, and volunteers can complete it at their own pace. After finishing training, crisis responders are on-call for three 12-hour shifts a month and always respond to calls in pairs.

“We provide you with the training and the support that you’re going to need,” Whaley said. “You’re always supported by the team, you’re never alone, and our community, right now especially, has a very great need for our services.”

More than anything else, volunteers simply need to have empathy and a desire to help. Crisis responders don’t need a background in medicine or any other schooling or experience, so Whaley said those interested should never underestimate what they have to offer.

For some calls, crisis responders arrange accommodations or get basic supplies like food or clothes for victims, but in many cases, volunteers help people just by being there for them and offering emotional support. People don’t always remember that Muskoka Victim Services was on scene after the dust has settled, Whaley said, but in the moment, their presence allows victims to take a breath and focus on taking care of themselves and their loved ones.

“You’re oftentimes reaching people in the community at their worst possible day in their life,”  Whaley said. “Just by going there and caring and wanting to listen, that’s the biggest thing because things just fall into place after that.”

Deb Shaw, volunteer crisis responder and team leader with Muskoka Victim Services, holds the Fran Coleman Community Volunteerism Award. Shaw won the award in 2020. Photo courtesy of Michelle Whaley

Deb Shaw is a team leader and crisis responder with Muskoka Victim Services. She’s been volunteering with the organization for seven years, and though she’s lent her time to many causes since her childhood, she says working with Muskoka Victim Services is the most wonderful volunteer work she’s ever done.

“I’ve been nursing for 50 years and I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of remarkable things,” Shaw said. “This is probably right up there with being in the ER and saving people’s lives. It’s that rewarding.”

The training process was long but enjoyable, she said, and it prepared her well for going out in the field. She distinctly remembers the details of her first call seven years ago, down to the temperature that night. It was an early evening call to a fire and the woman affected was completely devastated.

“It was amazing to me how everything came together,” Shaw said. “It seemed like no time at all and we were leaving because she was calm and had a plan.”

After every call, Shaw feels like she’s made a big difference in someone’s life, and it’s a task she never has to face alone. Crisis responders are able to call on the team leaders and staff members for their expertise and support, and it’s a wonderful team to be a part of, she said.

Everyone at Muskoka Victim Services comes together for the common goal of serving people in need and the impact they have on their clients is evident.

“It’s so rewarding and you just know you’re making such a difference,” Shaw said. “You can see it in their faces, you can see it in their body language, how much they appreciate it.”

Whether it’s a violent crime, a fire or one of the many other scenarios in which they assist, Shaw said just being there, listening and caring for people in their greatest time of need is one of the most fulfilling experiences a person can have. 

Muskoka Victim Services provides a safe and supported environment, she said, and volunteers don’t need well-developed skills or experience to become a crisis responder. Anyone who cares about their neighbour and about being part of the solution is a perfect fit.

“Having a heart and caring is the most important asset that you can come with,” Shaw said. “Everything else, they’ll show you the way.”

To apply to become a volunteer crisis responder, visit the Muskoka Victim Services website.

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