Prior to May, 9, 2012, Linda Massey knew nothing about Victim Services Toronto (VST) and the extraordinary work they do to comfort victims of crime and sudden tragedy.
Earlier that day, police showed up at her residence with the devastating news that her son, James Massey, had been murdered a short distance from the family home.
The 32-year-old was killed in a midtown park by a gunshot blast at close range. David Ludwig turned himself into police a few days later and was charged with First-Degree Murder.
Shortly after the police left, Massey and her husband, Trevor, received a call from VST.
“The support they offered was not only important to Trevor and me, but to our daughter and her family,” recalled Massey. “All of us benefited from a crisis counsellor who came out to talk to us in our homes, and a grief counsellor was also provided. They were very professional and kind and our family deeply appreciated that.”
Nearly a year after her son’s death, Massey joined the VST Board to perpetuate her son’s memory.
“I figured there were other families out there that need the kind of support me and my husband got in our tragic circumstance,” the retired high school principal said. “When I got the call from Bonnie Levine (VST executive director) after I had filled out the application, I told her I would join her board because it’s personal for me. I was also bringing the perspective of someone who benefited from Victim Service’s wonderful support.”
In her third year on the board, Massey, who’s Education Leadership Canada’s associate director of professional learning, and other board members and volunteers were acknowledged at the organization’s 21st Annual General Meeting and Appreciation Dinner on December 7 at the Old Mill.
In the keynote address, Justice Harvey Brownstone praised VST for its superlative work and pledged to join the organization after he retires from the bench.
“You making an effort to reach out to people and help them face what they are going through is probably the only real extension of humanity and compassion, other than perhaps in the medical profession, that they are going to get,” he said. “You are not faceless and voiceless. We know you are there. We respect and admire you and are extremely grateful for what you do. I wish I could tell you that one day your services will no longer be needed, but it can’t because it will be needed more than ever.”
VST provides crisis response, trauma and support services to victims of crime and sudden tragic circumstances 24 hours a day.
Supervised by crisis counsellors, volunteers provide crisis intervention and referrals, assist on the telephone or attend the scene as requested, and also help with fundraising and other community outreach initiatives.
“I can think of no higher calling than public service,” said Deputy Chief Mike Federico. “I get paid to do that. You, on the other hand, sought out an opportunity to volunteer to do that.”
Leadership Excellence Awards were presented to five outgoing board members, including Jonathan Maier, the chair since 2013.
He said his six years on the board, in which he oversaw the overhaul of VST by-laws, was an incredible experience.
“This is an agency that deliberately doesn’t seek out the limelight or look for accolades for the work it does,” said Maier, a partner at Hicks Morley law firm. “Assisting 20,000 of Toronto’s victims of crime and sudden tragedy each year is a job that’s very important and goes unnoticed too often. When people are at their lowest and require assistance the most, our crisis counsellors and volunteers are there in the immediate aftermath to provide practical and timely assistance that victims need. It is an important antecedent to the work that our police officers do. They can’t be everywhere all the time and they aren’t trained, frankly, to provide the type of care and assistance that victims of crime need.”
Maier joined the VST board after attending the Chief’s Gala, that supports VST, seven years ago.
“I was blown away by the presentations that were given, not only by those who helped lead the programs, but also those who benefitted from them,” he said.
Though he’s no longer on the board, Maier said he will continue to support VST.
“It’s a cause that, once you hear about it and get to know about it, it is awfully hard to ignore,” he said. “You want to become involved. This is an organization that’s very near and dear to my heart.”
VST executive director Bonnie Levine, who presented the Leadership Excellence Awards, said Maier was a major asset to the board.
“Jonathan is a skilled listener who quickly identified key issues and always provides the most thoughtful and strategic advice in the best interest of the agency,” she said. “He represented us very well.”
Other Leadership Excellence Award recipients were Chief’s Gala co-chair Paula Silver; 2006 Volunteer of the Year winner and 2009 City of Toronto Distinguished Volunteer Service Award winner Francisco Juarez; Chris Jones, who made history by starting his board position on the executive committee as the treasurer, and Roger Petersen.
The Sandy Cappadocia Memorial Volunteer Award was presented to Paulina Jules-Soungie.
“I have had a good life and it’s time to give back,” she said.
Jules-Soungie has been an admirable volunteer since 2009, never missing the opportunity to help, said VST Program Manager Sarah Rogers.
“She not only donates her time, but her knowledge, expertise, humor and creativity and has facilitated an annual grant donation at her workplace for Victim Services. What I appreciate most about her is her ability to mentor, guide and teach others,” Rogers said.
“Paulina contributes to each new recruit by sharing her knowledge and experience in a patient and supportive manner. She provides valuable feedback and creative ideas to improve our volunteer program and our agency as a whole. Her calm, grounded, welcoming and flexible nature helps to de-escalate crisis situations and ensure new volunteers feel welcomed. It goes a long way to helping create a positive and cohesive team environment.”
Cappadocia was a 10-year VST volunteer who succumbed to brain cancer in December 2005, at age 33.
The new board members are Bank of Montreal Senior Manager Ayeza Ahmed, longtime VST volunteer Gail Bockneck, VST Crisis Response Program volunteer Eric Green, lawyer Adam De Luca, Ontario Securities Commission Public Affairs Manager Kristen Rose and chartered accountant Caitlin Lee.
“I spent a few months last year in Laos, volunteering as a finance advisor for a non-government organization that provides protection and assistance to victims and girls at risk of human trafficking and sexual exploitation,” Lee said. “I want to bring some of my experience in this field to Victim Services.”
Last year, VST served 20,279 people affected by crime and sudden tragedies and crisis counsellors and case co-coordinators offered services to victims at location and on scene a total of 2,248 times during the year.
In addition, VST assisted 2,736 victims and survivors of sexual assault, an 81 per cent increase from the previous year.