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Victim Assistance marking 40 years

10/11/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Kathleen Folkerth

In January, Associate Director Leanne Graham will take over as executive director from the Rev. Robert Denton at the Victim Assistance Program, which is marking 40 years of service to crime and disaster victims this year.
Photo courtesy of Victim Assistance Program
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Forty years ago, a lunchtime discussion on the need for services for crime victims led to the creation of the Victim Assistance Program (VAP).

Now the organization’s leaders are looking back and celebrating its four decades of being there when survivors of tragic events need help.

According to Shelly Koch, VAP’s director of development, the organization has helped more than 300,000 crime victims and survivors over the years. In a year, the organization provides between 15,000 and 20,000 services for crime victims in the Akron area, she added. In some cases, victims receive more than one type of help.

The VAP’s mission is to minister to the victims of crime and disasters through crisis intervention, advocacy and education, collaboration and community and professional education.

To do that, it runs a 24-hour crisis hotline, provides individual and group counseling and therapy, assists with protection orders and offers pastoral support, among other things.

“It’s mind-boggling how many services we provide,” Koch said. “All of our services are free. We also work with the schools, and we refer people to other agencies. In some cases, we may not be able to provide support or services, but we provide someone who can. We are there with them holding their hands.”

Koch said the organization was begun in 1972 when the Rev. Robert Denton was having lunch with Akron Police Capt. Jack Cunningham, Stella Long and Richard Kislinger, and the group was discussing the need for services for crime victims.

“They sketched out a plan on a napkin that outlined how they could provide these comprehensive services to victims of crime in cooperation with the criminal justice system,” Koch said.

Denton headed up the new organization and is still its executive director, but in the early days services were mostly provided by volunteers, Koch said. Eventually it became possible to hire staff.

Funding has been provided by federal, state and local grants, Koch said.

“We do, of course, have donations from foundations and individual donors,” Koch added. The organization also conducts fundraisers, like its annual Mardi Gras event.

Among the annual projects conducted by VAP is the Angel Tree Ceremony, which takes place before Christmas and allows homicide survivors to place an ornament in memory of a loved one on trees in the Ocasek Building in Downtown Akron.

The VAP also has been active in situations such as the mass Copley shootings in August 2011, in which a gunman killed seven people in the Schocalog Road and Goodenough Avenue neighborhood.

In the coming months, there are some changes coming to the organization. Denton is going to be stepping down from his director duties to focus solely on its Safety Forces Chaplaincy Center. Associate Director Leanne Graham, who began working at VAP in August, will take the reins of the organization starting in January, Koch said.

Graham hopes to strengthen collaborations and work to increase awareness for the VAP’s services, Koch said.

For now, VAP officials and staff plan to celebrate the organization’s accomplishments at a 40th anniversary event Oct. 26 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at Quaker Station, 135 S. Broadway St. Honorary chairs are Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and Summit County Executive Russ Pry, and Akron Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth will serve as the master of ceremonies.

The cost to attend is $40 per person or $300 for a table for eight. For more information or to get tickets, go to www.vic timassistanceprogram.org or call 330-376-0040.

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