Everyone can use a superhero once in a while. And, if there is a group of do-gooder available, that’s even better.
In Oklahoma County, families can rely on the Good Samaritans, a volunteer group from various backgrounds that assist victims of crime. The organization, which is partnered with the Oklahoma County district attorney’s office, helps families struck by homicide get through the difficult process of the prosecution of the offender.
The Good Samaritans provide the victim’s family with care packages and money for expenses such as travel, lodging and food for the duration of the trial. Money raised through grants and fund-raising efforts by its board of directors is allocated on a case-by-case basis, according to the needs of the family.
“The board of directors solicits funds for different projects,” said Jackie Johnson, an investigator with the state attorney general’s office. “It is marvelous the different professions represented on the board. They are miracle workers.”
The Good Samaritans started in 2005 when a local advocate group learned of the financial and support needs of the victims’ families associated with the Victim Witness Center. Although families can receive money from the Victim Compensation Assistance Program for expenses such as medical bills and burial costs, there are other expenses associated with the crime that could not be funded by the Oklahoma County district attorney’s office.
From July 2007 to July 2008, there were 30 hotel accommodations, 16 flights and 16 taxi services that were provided by the Witness Center, according to Klare Ly, a newly elected Good Samaritans board member. Also, for the same period, there were 3,180 witness fee checks totaling $115,587.44, personal service requests for 1,551 people and 2,805 people contacted to appear in court.
Recently, the Good Samaritans raised money for improvements to the Witness Center, making it a more comfortable and secure lounge-type area. Improvements included new counters, furniture, a DVD player and coffeemakers. For now, the space is adequate, but in the future, the Witness Center will be relocated to a larger and more convenient space.
In addition, the plan is to have individual rooms for interviews and privacy.
“Right now, we are working on the Witness Center to find a better space and location,” said Ly, also a community affairs specialist with the Yukon Police Department. “We are working with county commissioners to get the Witness Center to (another floor), which is more convenient for all the witnesses and staff. Right now, there is no privacy.”
Another project on the Good Samaritans’ list is improving the childrens’ area within the district attorney’s office. Johnson said she is impressed with the people involved in the cause, from donated supplies to police and firemen who made the improvements to the Witness Center. Also, the Good Samaritans are putting together a program that serves victims of breaking-and-entering crimes by repairing and securing the door or window broken during the crime.
“It takes of a lot of orchestration. The board determines the needs and looks at what is available. Of course, if we had the funds, we could be doing all of this at once,” Johnson said.
For more information, call 354-9556. “Gina A. Dabney