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Volunteers needed to help those who have lost a loved one

La Plata County Sheriff’s Office Victim Resource Team hopes to add four to six people to its team
The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office Victim Resource Team is seeking volunteers to help people who have had a loved one die. (Durango Herald file)

The La Plata County Sheriff’s Office is looking for volunteers to join its Victim Resource Team.

The resource team is in search of four to six people to assist the loved ones or friends of someone who has recently died. Resource team members provide emotional support and information for resources to assist the loved ones.

“It’s such a valuable resource that we have that helps our agency in so many different ways, because often times the victim’s resource person will show up at the scene,” said Sheriff’s Office Lt. Pat Downs. “The investigators or deputies are there if it’s a suicide or if it’s a questionable death, so this victim’s resource person can take some pressure off of the Sheriff’s Office personnel that are there for one reason. The victim’s resource person is there for another, and often times that really helps us out with the cases.”

People often find themselves overwhelmed by witnessing the death of a loved one – even after a long illness when it is “expected,” said Alison Brown Cole, victim resource coordinator for the Sheriff’s Office.

“Still, when it happens it is a shock, or it can be, and so the Sheriff’s Office is committed to providing support to the family members or closest friends of the deceased,” Brown Cole said. “And really what we do is provide a compassionate presence to sit with people as they start to wrap their head around the unexpected death of a loved one.”

Volunteers on the team most often serve for years but they sometimes serve shorter stints. The program has been around in one form or another for decades.

“It’s not really crime-related,” Downs said. “Yeah, it can be, but the Sheriff’s Office gets called out to any unattended death in the county. So if someone dies at home, even though they’re not the victim of a crime and it’s old age or it’s disease or something like that, (we) go out there with the coroner and determine the cause of death, and then victim resources is notified to provide family or friends some support and direction.”

The resource team handles an averages of two to three deaths per month.

The work involves an initial contact and a follow-up contact to see if any additional information is needed or if there are further questions.

“Initially when we make contact with the loved ones, they are pretty stunned,” Brown Cole said. “And again, even if it’s expected, they’re still trying to wrap their head around that this has happened, that a death has occurred.”

The information the team provides is twofold. They supply information regarding the actual process of planning a funeral and organizing that information so that loved ones don’t have to be thinking about that or wondering if they missed a step or forgot to do something. The other aspect of information addresses the emotions people face.

“I’ve had people say to me repeatedly that they feel like they’re going a little crazy, or they just feel very strange,” Brown Cole said. “And those are very typical responses to a pretty abnormal kind of event. So I give them information regarding what to expect from an emotional and feeling perspective.”

Following up after that is the important next step because people have had time to process the loss and may have questions they didn’t think of during first contact.

The resource team is paged to a scene when requested by a deputy or other emergency service responders. Anyone considering volunteering should possess special qualities.

“I think it’s someone who can be comfortable sitting with another person’s pain and discomfort,” Brown Cole said. “... The can’t change anything, so again I’m looking for people who will offer up a compassionate presence and just a willingness to be with someone during perhaps one of the most painful moments of their entire life.”

For more information or if interested in joining the team, call 382-7036 and leave a message for Brown Cole, or email Alison.Browncole@co.laplata.co.us.


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