In the late 1990’s, while attending a Conference of Crisis Responders in Austin, Texas, our founders envisioned a humanitarian organization that would meet many of the physical and emotional needs of victims of disaster more quickly and efficiently than was generally possible. We observed that extensive work was being done to help disaster victims and their families, but recognized that building close relationships among these groups of first responders and social service agencies was necessary for such a vision to be successful. Before the end of the last century, leadership from over 150 agencies and associations was committed to the new Victim Relief efforts.
In May 2000, Victim Relief was incorporated and the Dallas pilot program began. The Texas founders sponsored the start up of the organization and a local humanitarian agency provided temporary headquarters office facilities. Victim Relief filed for and received tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status in 2001.
In 2000 and 2001, 500+ victims of various disasters were served each year and an experienced volunteer base with a formal organization plan and training program was in place. Formal partnerships continued to develop with other types of first responder groups.
In the Spring of 2001, our founders recognized that some victims requested the counseling of a professional chaplain in addition to our physical and emotional care advocates. Responding to this need, Victim Relief, with the advice and approval of our partner first response organizations, formed an alliance with a national association of volunteer victim volunteers, today known as the Victim Care Association. Founders of this national association, including such notable law enforcement representatives as FBI Chaplain Joe Williams and Police Chaplain Dr. Michael Haynes, created a new volunteer chaplaincy – Victim Chaplains. Victim Relief continues today to include a Victim Chaplain as a part of its volunteer response team when requested by the governmental or other primary disaster coordinator.
Following the September 1, 2001 terrorist attack in New York City, Victim Relief volunteers, lead by local Texas volunteers and in partnership with Rickey Hargrave, National Secretary of the International Conference of Police Chaplains, responded to Ground Zero and worked for many weeks. Victim Relief, at the request of the Ground Zero Faith Based Task Force, provided grief and loss training and counseling. In November, 2001 more than 300 Victim volunteers were trained in New York and New Jersey and deployed at this national crisis.
By April 2002, an additional 500+ victims of disaster had been served by providing food, clothing, water, and counseling around the country. This included many volunteers from the Victim Care Association who were trained by us on the established standards, guidelines, and training protocols and the regulation of all Victim Relief volunteers.
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 Victim Relief volunteer counselors and distributors of water, blankets, and food responded and spent the weekend working along with the search teams in East Texas. Victim Relief also provided a long-term comfort station at the NASA entrance in Houston to provide emotional counseling for grief and loss 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, and 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. In response to Hurricane Ivan in Grenada, Victim Relief responded by sending an assessment team including Counselors and other Volunteers. Six containers of donated household goods, clothing and food were distributed to and through 45 local relief organizations and churches with whose assistance we were able to contribute more than $100.000.00 in direct financial aid. After gaining international recognition and acceptance for its service and professionalism, Victim Relief was classified as a first responder in a disaster to assist governmental agencies in all disasters, including those with mass casualties and fatalities.
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 disasters. 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.