Effingham County Victim Witness Assistance Program Lessens Trauma for Its Clients

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SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County Victim Witness Assistance Program (EVWAP) is a unique member of the Effingham County Family Connection family.

It is the lone agency associated with Family Connection that provides advocacy assistance to victims and witnesses of violent crimes.

Family Connection’s purpose is to provide better outcomes for at-risk children, families and communities by connecting its partners with the resources they need.

“Often, we serve the same demographic,” said Fran Ross, EVWAP advocate. “We are serving people in a bad situation.”

EVWAP and Family Connection, led by Executive Director Elaine Spencer, are located in the same building at 768 Ga. Hwy 119 South. Spencer also sits on the EVWAP board.

The majority of EVWAP’s aid — about 61 percent — is directed toward those impacted by domestic violence. It frequently provides emergency financial assistance for victims who are rendered homeless.

“That’s the way we correspond with Family Connection,” Ross said, “We saw how we can better the lives of people in unfortunate situations. We also assist with victims of DUI, car wrecks, getting held up at a gas station…

“Anything that is a violent crime we can assist with but, as you know, primarily that is domestic violence.”

EVWAP collaborates with Family Connection and other organizations on educational events like the annual Teen Maze that rotates annually between Effingham County and South Effingham high schools.

The Teen Maze is a life-sized, interactive “game board” through which youths will advance by “chance” to various stations. In the maze, youth don’t have a “choice” about the decisions they make regarding drug/alcohol use, texting and driving, and other behaviors.

Instead, they pull scripts or spin a wheel to learn the “good or bad news.” Youth who pull scripts that avoid risky behaviors are “rewarded.” Others will learn the potential consequences of poor decisions, e.g., loss of freedom, medical problems, and even death.

Since paths are randomly assigned, no two participants will have the same encounter (much like in real life). The maze is an interactive, humbling experience that shows teens how a wrong decision can impact the rest of their lives.

In addition to Ross, EVWAP features Victim Services Coordinator Monica Black and receptionist Kara

Parrish.Black files temporary protection orders for victim witness program clients. She also supports them by going to court when judicial appearances are required.

Parrish coordinates the program’s calls and client intake.

“We have to be careful what we involve ourselves in because we are not legal representatives,” Ross said. “We are an advocate but we are not an attorney. We always have to make sure we walk that line knowing what we can and cannot advise.”

Contact that witness assistance program at 912-754-7460.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is the  second in a weekly series about organizations in Effingham County Family Connection, part of a statewide initiative that cultivates public and private collaboration at the local level to boost at-risk children and families.  Georgia Family Connection is represented in each of the state’s 159 counties, making it the largest network of its kind in the nation.

Read the story on effinghamherald.net.

Read part one in the series: “Family Connection Focus: Department of Juvenile Justice’s Effingham County Community Services Office.”