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READY TO HELP – The Hancock-Brooke-Ohio Victim Assistance Program is made up of Jennifer Mollock, clockwise, left to right, who oversees the program and coordinates its services in County of Ohio; Erica Gump, Hancock County Coordinator; and Brandon Kaufman, Brooke County Coordinator. – Warren Scott

WELLSBURG – For more than 25 years, a regional nonprofit group has helped up to 1,000 children and adults in the area each year, but this is not an issue that many area residents think about.

That’s because few people expect to be a victim of crime, say the three Hancock-Brooke-Ohio Victim Assistance Program coordinators, but they want everyone to know they’re ready. to help if this happens.

The program was started in Wellsburg through the efforts of former Brooke County Chief Probation Officer Jim Lee and former Brooke County District Attorney David B. Cross, but it has spread to over the years to include offices in Hancock and Ohio counties.

And it’s accessible to crime victims of all ages and from anywhere, as long as the crime was committed in one of the three counties.

Jennifer Mollick, who oversees the program and coordinates its services in Ohio County, noted that helping victims of crime ranges from helping to secure funds for the treatment of injuries to organizing counseling, by professionals under contract with VAP, to help them cope with the emotional impact of a crime.

“It can have a major impact on people their entire lives, but it’s not something tangible,” Mollick said.

She said that in addition to people who have been physically or psychologically assaulted, she has met people who, following a burglary, find it uncomfortable to be in their home.

Mollick said the counseling is available for primary victims of a crime and for secondary victims, such as children whose parents’ behavior has been affected by the crime.

She and Brandon Kaufman, program coordinator in Brooke County, and Erica Gump, her Hancock County coordinator, served as intermediaries for victims of crime, accompanying them to court hearings when needed and helping to apply for financial assistance to victims of West Virginia crime. Compensation fund.

Administered by the state Legislative Claims Commission, the fund was established with court fees paid by convicted offenders.

And thanks to him, victims of crime received limited compensation for the economic losses caused by their injuries and reimbursement for glasses, dentures and prostheses damaged in the crimes.

Funds are not available to recover stolen goods or money.

Compensation claims must be made within two years of the offense, which must have been reported to law enforcement, or no later than two years after the victim’s 18th birthday if the offense was committed then that she was a child.

Mollick said domestic violence and other assault cases make up a lot of those she helps.

“Unfortunately, I see a lot of cases of child abuse” Kaufman said.

Gump said child neglect is common because of parents who are addicted to opioids.

She said that even after children have been taken from their homes, often to be raised by their grandparents, their parents’ actions still have an impact.

Gump said during last year’s pandemic, the three continued to provide services, going to victims’ homes when they needed it and when it was safe to do so.

She noted that the program faces a financial challenge with a significant decrease in funding from the federal Victims of Crime Act fund.

The program has benefited from free office space provided by local government entities and occasional local grants and fundraisers, but the VOCA fund covers the salaries of the three, who are its only staff, travel costs and supplies. Office.

Mollick noted that this allows them to help victims while they wait for help through the state’s compensation fund, which can take up to six months.

Established in 1984 with fines and court fees paid by convicted offenders, the VOCA fund has supported thousands of crime victim assistance programs across the United States, including shelters for abused women and child abuse treatment centers.

The fund amount has fluctuated over the years, but has gone from $ 17 million last year to $ 5 million.

The drop was attributed to an increase in out-of-court settlements, often linked to white-collar crimes blamed on large corporations, for which financial restitution went to general funds and not to the VOCA fund.

This summer, Congress passed a law directing that money to the VOCA fund and implementing other measures to restore the VOCA fund over the next few years.

To bridge this gap, the Senses. Shelley Moore Capito, RW.Va., and Joe Manchin, DW.Va., announced that $ 8.5 million in funding from the federal Department of Justice will be available to provide grants for such programs.

The three VAP coordinators plan to seek the support of state legislators and local authorities to ensure that such funding is available to continue the same level of services.

The group has employed various fundraisers in the past and currently sells books containing hundreds of coupons for many area businesses and attractions for $ 40 each.

It can be ordered from any of its three offices: (304) 737-2515 in Brooke County, (304) 564-4277 in Hancock County; and (304) 234-3896 in Ohio County.

Each of the three worked in the program for around 10 years and said that although they interact with people on a regular basis at a very difficult and stressful time in their lives, they are happy to be able to help.

Michael Traubert, who has served on the program’s board since 1993, said: “All three of them are the most wonderful people I have been associated with. “

He added, “I think it’s a great program or I wouldn’t have been there all these years.”

Traubert said he provides a vital service because crime is non-discriminatory, affecting people of all ages and from all economic backgrounds. He noted that anyone can be robbed or hit by a drunk driver, for example.

Mollick said that often the emotional impact of a crime lasts beyond any physical harm done to the victim. “I find a lot of people who say, I thought I could put this behind me” she said, adding that the Victims Assistance Program’s job is to help people cope on both levels.

“That’s what we’re here for – to help people get to this point where they see they’ve been a victim but are now a survivor,” Mollick said.

(Scott can be contacted at [email protected])

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