Victim Services Toronto crisis counsellor Anna Amy Ho left a crowd of 700 guests at the Chief’s Gala speechless by telling her own story of tragedy and then breathless as she performed an aerial silk routine.
TheChief's Gala, sold-out for the first time, aimed to raise $230,000 for the non-profit organization that helps victims of crime or sudden tragedy, whether it be the loss of a loved one or domestic abuse.
Victim Services Toronto came to Ho’s aid on June 25, 2007, when her mother’s common-law partner took the life of her mother and grandmother and then himself the same day as her Grade 8 graduation.
“I remember all of it as if it happened yesterday. The paramedics told me it was not my fault, the social workers said it was not my fault but I still felt guilty, “ said Ho, who adopted her mother Amy’s name in her memory. “Victim Services Toronto was there for me. They were the first point of contact after police and paramedics.”
The crisis counsellors offered emotional support, interpreters for relatives and informed everyone of what had happened. They also brought clothes from an emergency shelter to replace the blood-splattered clothes Ho had worn during the attack.
“In the midst of all the chaos they brought a sense of safety and security,” she said.
For weeks, Victim Services stayed in her shattered family’s lives to link the children to counselling, coordinating with the Ministry of the Attorney General, Coroner’s Office, police and Children’s Aid Society as well as funeral arrangements and financial assistance.
“I was orphaned at 13 after this incident,” she said. “I struggled immensely to cope with my trauma, grief... and learn how to be an adult at 16. I learned how to live in a world without family and with limited supports. But the foundations that Victim Services set for me make access to services and financial supports much easier. And that’s what victim services does everyday.”
After graduating from the Ryerson University Social Work program, she applied to Victim Services Toronto realizing they were the organization that had helped her eight years earlier.
“If you asked me at 16 if I would see myself today here today I honestly don’t know what I would have said,” said Ho, who travelled Australia on her own after graduation and hopes to one day open her own therapeutic arts centre.
“But here am I happy. Happy as I ever could be to help give back to the community."
Chief Mark Saunders thanked the Victim Services Toronto board members and staff for making such a tremendous difference in the lives of Torontonians.
“What this reminds me of what Toronto is all about. This is a city of compassion. This is a city that knows the importance of helping others,” Saunders said.
The Chief said that continuing to recognize and help fund the work of Victim Services Toronto was an easy decision after taking the helm of the Service in the Spring.
“They are the unsung heroes when it comes to policing. That arrest piece is such a minute component of what it takes to create a great city,” Saunders said. “You have to have that healing process and the sooner you can affect that healing process the better you have the chance for success. Anna Ho is a classic example of that. That is what they do everyday.
He said the organization helps over 20,000 victims a year, noting it's important to recognize that 7,000 of those victims are children.
“Nobody wakes up in the morning and volunteers to be a victim — it happens,” the Chief said. “But what happens after that. What are the mechanisms for the healing process to get people reintegrated back into society, to give them dignity and to give them self-worth? Because if you don’t give them those elements you don’t give them hope and if they have no hope they lead to failure.”
The Chief said it is because of the support and understanding of Gala guests that Victim Services is able to forge ahead with innovative programs such as a therapy dog.
“I am so honoured, I am so blessed, I am so happy that you came here tonight, it means lot to the city, it means a lot to us. It is what separates us from everybody else. I want to take the time to say thanks.”
The Chief's Gala was co-chaired by Paula Silver and Brian Moniz.