In the late 1990’s our founders envisioned a faith-based organization to meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of victims of crime during a Criminal Justice Conference in Austin, Texas. We observed that extensive work was being done to rehabilitate criminals and to assist their families, but very little assistance was available to the victims of crime and their families.
Our founders recognized that building close relationships among local law enforcement, social service agencies and the faith community was necessary for such a vision to be successful. After meeting with Dallas, Texas Police Chief, Ben Click, we agreed to conduct a pilot program in the Southwest District of the Dallas Police Department.
Before the end of the last century, leadership from over 50 agencies and 100 churches was committed to the victim relief efforts, as well as a large contingency from the Dallas Police Department.
In May 2000, Victim Relief was incorporated, and the Dallas pilot program began. Texas Baptist Men sponsored the start up of the organization and a local church provided the headquarters facility. Victim Relief received tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status in 2001.
In 2000 and 2001, 500 victims of crime were served each year and an experience base was formed. The Dallas Police Department established a formal partnership with Victim Relief which not only continues to date, but is expanding into specialized areas such as crimes against senior citizens and homicide victims.
In the Spring of 2001, our founders recognized that victims needed a professional spiritual care advocate. Responding to this need, Victim Relief began approved and began accepting the licensing and credentials of the national association of volunteer victim care volunteers, today known as the Victim Care Association. Founders of this national association included such notable law enforcement representatives as FBI Chaplain Joe Williams and Police Chaplain Dr. Michael Haynes, creating a new profession of volunteer chaplaincy – Victim Chaplains.
The September 11th, 2001 terrorist attack in New York City changed the emphasis of need for Victim Relief services. Victim Relief volunteers, lead by Chaplains Grounds, Williams, Haynes and Rickey Hargrave, National Secretary of the International Conference of Police Chaplains, responded to Ground Zero and worked for many weeks. Victim Relief was requested by the Ground Zero Faith Based Task Force to provide grief training. In November, 2001 more than 300 clergy and lay professionals were trained in New York and New Jersey.
By April 2002, an additional 500 victims of violent crimes had been served. The Victim Chaplains of the national association established standards, guidelines, and training protocols for the licensing and regulation of all volunteer Victim Chaplains.
In 2003, Victim Relief expanded client services to a city-wide basis in Dallas and the headquarters were moved to a disaster relief mission equipping center. We also began receiving numerous inquiries and requests to expand Victim Relief to other cities and states.
In February 2003, Victim Relief was called upon to assist in the search and recovery of the NASA Astronauts. More than 74 licensed chaplains, counselors, and volunteers with Victim Relief responded and spent the weekend working along with the search teams in East Texas. Victim Relief also provided a long-term prayer station for comfort at the entrance of NASA in Houston, Texas to offer grief support to thousands who congregated at the memorial site.
Also in 2003 and 2004, Victim Relief responded to wildfire victims in New Mexico and Arizona and flood victims in Central Texas.
Victim Relief chaplains, counselors, and volunteers continued to receive calls to serve in broader-reaching crisis situations, and in 2004 responded to calls from national agencies for help with hurricane victims in Louisiana, Texas, Florida.
In 2005, Victim Relief chaplains responded, along with a large group of other organizations, to the Tsunami in Sri Lanka, where many long-lasting relationships were formed, fueling continued growth of our ministry and services.
After gaining recognition and acceptance for its service and professionalism, Victim Relief was classified as a first responder in a disaster to assist fire and police in mass casualties and fatalities.
Victim Relief also expanded its scope of services in disaster recovery by mobilizing and coordinating faith community resources in disaster recovery. An example of this assistance is the response to Grenada following Hurricane Ivan which destroyed 90% of the island.
Victim Relief responded by sending an assessment team followed by Chaplains, Counselors and Disaster Relief Volunteers. In April, 2005, a team accompanied six containers of donated items including household goods, clothing and food to Grenada. These items were distributed to and through 45 churches, through which we were able to contribute more than $100,000 for Grenada disaster recovery.
Victim Relief continues to grow and expand its services nationally and internationally. In addition to creating a successful pilot program in victim counseling and support at a major county hospital, we have extended local care to grief counseling, death notifications, and financial assistance of victims of accidents, illness, family violence, and abuse. We have continued to respond to disasters, including wildfires in Texas, California, and the Southwest, tornados in Texas, numerous flood events in Texas and Louisiana, and the police shootings in Dallas, Texas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.