Victim Services turns 25

Deborah Levy can't say enough good things about Penny Noble.

"She's an awesome person," Levy said. "She's wonderful and very caring. She was there for me every time I was crying and upset. She's really a sweetheart."

The two women first met in the days after Deborah's son Michael Levy was viciously attacked at a teen dance at Tynehead Community Hall on Oct. 28, 2006.

Michael was punched in the face without warning and had a bottle broken against his head. He was then pepper-sprayed and struck three times in the back of the neck with an axe, which severed his spinal cord in two places.

Noble, who works for Surrey RCMP Victim Services, was assigned to help the family deal with the unimaginable trauma and the uncertain road that lay ahead.

She was there when Deborah's head was still spinning with the realization the attack had left her son a quadriplegic. Noble put the family in touch with B.C.'s Crime Victims Assistance Program, which arranged medical care for Michael and helped the family find a new home that was wheelchair accessible.

Noble also sat alongside Deborah and her daughter Crystal throughout the trial of the three teens convicted of the attack on Michael. And she was there last week when the Crown appealed the 20-month conditional sentence handed to one of the teens, Tuan "Tony" Minh Nguyen.

"I don't know how people can get by without them because they are so informative and help you so much," Deborah said of the Surrey RCMP Victim Services program, which celebrated its 25th anniversary on Thursday.

Noble joined the program seven years ago when it was still volunteer-based. She became a full-time victim services caseworker when the unit began using only paid caseworkers three years ago.

Initially, she saw her role as a way to give back to the community, having accessed victim services herself several years earlier. She continues because she believes she makes a difference in the lives of those experiencing trauma.

"It's an overwhelming situation," Noble said. "People aren't expecting this to happen to any member of their family, and I was able to be with (the Levys) from the start when it happened right through the whole court process."

Surrey's Victim Services began in May 1983 as a summer employment program funded by the Federal Student Work Experience Program. That September, the City of Surrey provided additional funding through a special community grant to hire a full-time paid coordinator and train three volunteers.

In 1984, the first full year of operation, there were 1,285 victim services packages given to clients. And within 10 years, the program had grown to include 82 volunteers and three co-ordinators.

The unit began offering 24-hour, seven-day-a-week service in 2003 with the hiring of paid after-hour crisis intervention workers.

Volunteers were phased out in 2005 when a new computerized client file management system was introduced. From the unit's inception until September 2005, more than 1,300 community volunteers provided approximately 161,000 hours of service to crime victims.

The Surrey RCMP Victim Services unit was the first of its kind in Canada, and it's been used as a model for similar programs across the country.

Today, it boasts a staff of 13 case workers, with nearly half of them speaking Punjabi. The City of Surrey provides 83 per cent of the program funding, with the provincial government making up the rest.

Last year, victim services workers assisted 3,009 clients.

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