People pay tribute to the Woosh.ji.een Dance Group as they perform during a Celebrate Survivors gathering sponsored by Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and AWARE in the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall in 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

People pay tribute to the Woosh.ji.een Dance Group as they perform during a Celebrate Survivors gathering sponsored by Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska and AWARE in the Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall in 2018. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

AWARE, Catholic Community Services awarded advocacy grant

The grant is to enhance their services for victims

Two Juneau advocacy organizations were recently awarded grant money that will go to help victims and survivors of violence of all ages, according to the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Catholic Community Services and AWARE will both receive funds from the federal Victims of Crime Act, which aims to help victims of abuse or other domestic violence cases. Both organizations will receive funding over a two-and-a-half year period; tens of thousands of dollars has already been authorized for the first several months.

“For the most part, they want to provide enhanced services for child advocacy services,” CCS Executive Director Erin Walker-Tolles said in a phone interview.

CCS plans to use the money to retain one of the four members of their child advocacy work team and to retain a dedicated sexual assault nurse examiner/pediatric, who can perform examinations on-site rather than requiring a possible victim to travel to the hospital or their primary care provider.

“Less abuse gets identified and there’s less chance that the documentation is going to hold out in court,” Walker-Tolles said of examinations performed off-site. “This allows us to hire someone who’s dedicated to our kids to do the exams on site.”

AWARE is taking their grant in a different direction, executive director Mandy Cole said in a phone interview. They plan on hiring a dedicated legal advocate to help victims of crimes to navigate the sometimes-confusing legal system. While AWARE already employs one such advocate, Cole said, that position is funded by a federal grant of uncertain stability. Cole said that hiring a new legal advocate, funded from a different grant, will ensure expansion, or at least continuity, of the critical service.

“Our legal advocate will be working specifically with crime victims to make sure their outcomes will be better and their voices will be present,” Cole said. “A legal advocate is a conduit for the victims to have their words, their thoughts, their feelings amplified in the legal system.”

Victims personally affected by such crimes can have a difficult time understanding the vagaries of the legal system, Cole said. Having someone who understands the ins and outs of the system and can deal with legal problems in a calm and detached manner can be a real asset in achieving best outcomes for the victims.

“A lot of what the legal advocate does is connect, maybe with law enforcement, maybe with a prosecutor,” Cole said. “It helps to be one step removed from the actual crime.”

Cole said they’d be putting together their job requirements shortly and hopefully interviewing candidates and seeing they’d be a good fit for AWARE within weeks. Cole said they hope to have their candidate hired and engaged by the end of March, if possible.

CDVSA Executive Director L. Diane Casto said in a statement that she’s excited the grant will support three service areas that has received limited funding or been unfunded in the past. Those three areas are child advocacy centers, legal advocacy services and mental health services for children and youth impacted by violence.

“Funding to provide healing services to children and youth impacted by interpersonal violence has been a CDVSA goal for several years,” Casto said.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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