Dinners to help crime victims

From children who were sexually or otherwise physically abused to adults who were assaulted or robbed, the Brooke-Hancock-Ohio Victims Assistance Program has been helping local residents cope with the emotional impact of being a victim of crime for about 20 years.

Because of funding cuts, the program’s coordinators need the community’s help, and one way is as easy as partaking of a spaghetti dinner at the Wellsburg or Weirton Moose lodges on April 12.

The dinners will be held from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Weirton lodge at 3967 Main St. and the Wellsburg lodge at 844 Main St.

The cost is $6 for the dinner, which includes pasta with marinara sauce, salad, bread and coffee or tea. Meatballs are an additional 50 cents each, and desserts and other beverages will be sold separately.

There also will be a Chinese auction at each dinner. Tickets also may be purchased in advance from a Moose Club member.

Jennifer Gruber, overall coordinator and Ohio County coordinator for the Victims Assistance Program, said proceeds from the dinners will help her and fellow coordinators Brandon Kaufman in Brooke County and Michelle Wuyak in Hancock County to arrange free counseling for crime victims in the three counties.

The Victims Assistance Program arranges counseling for primary victims of crime and secondary victims, such as children whose parents’ behavior has been affected by being a victim of a crime, through several counselors or therapists under contract to the program at a discounted rate, Gruber said.

Typically six sessions are arranged, though more may be scheduled as needed. she said.

Gruber and the other coordinators also may act as intermediaries between crime victims and court and law enforcement officials and attend court hearings with them. They also can assist victims in filing for compensation for medical bills and certain other costs resulting from a crime.

Gruber noted victims of crimes committed in the three counties, regardless of where they live, are eligible for help. The program’s staff also can help people living in Hancock, Brooke and Ohio counties to file for compensation for crimes committed against them in other states, she said.

Gruber said last year the program aided 1,134 crime victims.

She noted those aided may be children who were victims of sexual and physical abuse, adults who experienced such abuse as children and victims of all ages of domestic violence, drunk driving, homicides, kidnapping, assault, breaking and entering, assault and robberies.

Victims of crimes must apply for help within two years after the crime or no later than two years after their 18th birthday if they were children when the crime occurred.

The program’s chief source of funding is a grant from the federal Victims of Crime Act fund, which was established with money collected from the defaulted bonds and confiscated property of convicted criminals.

The VOCA money covers wages for the three coordinators and office supplies and training and travel expenses. Office space for the three coordinators is provided rent-free by various government entities in their respective counties.

She said victims assistance programs are no longer eligible for a grant from the West Virginia Division of Criminal Justice Services that once was used to provide counseling.

With the exception of the Hancock County Commission, which has allocated funds for the program at various times, the VAP coordinators have turned to private contributions and fundraising.

Gruber said she appreciates the support of various groups that have made donations, such as Hancock County Savings Bank, and most recently, the Wellsburg and Weirton Moose Clubs.

She also expressed thanks to VAP board member Everett Mace, who approached the clubs about doing the dinners; and the board, which is headed by Michael Traubert, for its support.

Gruber said in addition to accepting monetary donations, she and the coordinators welcome volunteers who may prepare fliers for fundraisers, answer the phone and perform other general office tasks.

All volunteers must sign a confidentiality agreement and approved adult volunteers may accompany victims to court.

Those seeking help from the Victims Assistance Program or wishing to help may call Gruber at (304) 234-3896; Kaufman at (304) 737-2515; or Wuyak at (304) 564-4277.