You may not notice them in the glare of the flashing lights from a police car or in the chaos of an emergency, but chances are good they are there.
Trauma Intervention Program volunteers are often called to the scene by emergency crews to do the things first-responders don’t have time for. They offer comfort to the witnesses of a violent crime or to make sure the person who just lost a loved one isn’t left alone.
They are average citizens who step in to provide emotional and practical support in the first few hours after a tragedy.
“Sometimes it’s as simple as letting the dog in, or finding the glasses and turning the coffee pot off before they leave to go to the hospital,” explained June Vining.
Vining was one of the founding volunteers of TIP, 20 years ago in the Portland Vancouver area and now she manages the program.
Part of her job is making sure the 200 volunteers complete 58 hours of intensive training and are ready at any moment to walk into a complete stranger’s life and offer help.
“People are traumatized and all of a sudden, they have really important decisions to make and it's probably the worst time in their lives to make them,” said Vining.
Jake Wegener was motivated to volunteer after witnessing the shooting at the Zone nightclub in downtown Portland in 2009.
He was working nearby when a lone gunman opened fire, killing two teenage girls and wounding seven others. Wegener’s boss was one of those hit.
Like many at the scene, Jake was shaken up by what he saw. He was also impressed that within minutes, TIP volunteers were there.
“They just introduced themselves and let us know that if we needed somebody outside of the immediate circle they were there,” said Wegener. Now it is Wegener and Vining and so many others who are there during traumatic times, offering kindness and concern that are often rewarded with written words of gratitude.
In her office, Vining sorts through a stack of thank you notes to TIP volunteers, sharing one that reads, “She was an angel, I only wish I could thank her in person.”
A sentiment that prompts Vining to add, “You honestly feel like you are making a difference when you walk away and you know that person wasn’t left alone.”