by Stephen Dafoe
Elisabeth Melvin is the new executive director of Sturgeon Victim Services (SVS), having taken over the position from Kristine McDonnell Aug. 12. SVS, a not for profit organization, provides 24/7 crisis response through the RCMP, court preparation and accompaniment and post-trauma support, after court and after trial.
McDonnell, an International Women’s Day recipient this year for Mental Health, Unsung Heroine and Youth Empowerment, moves to the East Coast with her family soon but will continue to assist Melvin this week in the transition and in a mentoring capacity on the road ahead. McDonnell took over as Executive Director in 2018 when Donna McPherson retired after almost 22 years.
Melvin is well known in the community as the former manager of Higher Grounds Espresso Bar and President of Citizens on Patrol. As a pastor, she has been serving the Morinville RCMP as Chaplain, a role she will continue as well as leading the Sturgeon Victim Services unit.
“It seemed to be a natural fit with my passion,” Melvin said of taking on the role. “When the position came up, and I heard it was opening up, I applied for it.”
Although having a strong background in the skills required to run the Sturgeon Victim Services unit, Melvin said she has some big shoes to fill with McDonnell’s departure. “[I’m] honoured. Definitely honoured. I love to serve our community. It’s a growth opportunity for myself because it’s all of Sturgeon County. It’s reaching beyond where I’ve been before. So, I’m excited—with a healthy dose of overwhelmed. It’s a good learning curve, but I feel up to the challenge.”
Past skills an asset
Melvin said skills she has acquired in her previous profession, including crisis care, are transferable to the new role. She is grateful for McDonnell’s being around for a couple of weeks to help her into the new position.
“She’s going to stay on for a little bit as my mentor. So I will have that, and I’m very much appreciative of that from her and the board for giving me that opportunity,” Melvin said.
Advocates are the key
Working with victims of crime and tragedy is performed by volunteers called advocates who have specialized training and high-level RCMP clearance. Melvin said Sturgeon Victim Services currently has 11 advocates. However, she is looking to grow the team and make room for youth to assist the organization with things like the annual Candy Cane Checkstop to raise awareness of impaired driving.
“I know there is opportunity reaching out to youth, getting them involved in a very safe way,” Melvin said. “I hope to get some young blood in there—getting them involved knowing there are future opportunities.
New home for Hope
In 2018 SVS added a new member to the unit, Hope, a then 2-year-old Certified Service Dog Labrador Retriever trained through Dogs with Wings. Hope’s training allows the dog to ease the effects of trauma experienced by victims of crime and tragedy.
Hope has been living with McDonnell and her family; however, Melvin said the Certified Service Dog will now live with SVS Program Manager Elyse Prince.
“To have Hope, you need to take a handler’s training course, and Elyse has taken that course and agreed to take on Hope,” Melvin said. “In the future, I hope to take that course as well.”
The new executive director explained Hope is a crucial part of the team who has been a valuable asset for the past two years.
“She’s proven time and time again, in the program, as bringing comfort,” Melvin said. “You’re dealing with people of all ages, especially young children walking through trauma. So Hope is just a safe companion.”
For more information on Sturgeon Victim Services visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/SturgeonVictimServices.