by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon
Some 17 years ago, Greg Wims from the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rotary Club created VRF – the Victim’s Right Foundation, after three young women were kidnapped and murdered with their bodies dropped on the side of a Maryland road. VRF is an all-volunteer non-profit foundation that helps those who have suffered from abuse and families who have lost a loved one due to violence. The first volunteers helped with the burial of these three women and held prayer vigils. Since then the foundation has grown to count over 800 volunteers.
The foundation holds prayer vigils to comfort family members of slain or injured victims following violent attacks. It raises reward funds to assist law enforcement in apprehending culprits of violent crimes. It provides comfort to families throughout drawn-out legal proceedings that often take place months or years after an alleged culprit is apprehended. And it provides burial assistance for victims and their families as well as funds for professional medical care. In 2002, when the Washington area was terrorized by two snipers, VRF raised half a million dollars for the victims.
What has kept Greg and others inspired for all those years are truly special moments, such as when “about 100 kids from a local elementary and middle school came and prayed” for a young boy who was recently killed. “These kids have also been taught to report to the police if they witness any abuse or violence, even within their own family”, Greg explains. As a result, “the community as a whole is now focused on domestic violence and sees it as a problem, and everyone tries to see that there is no violence in their homes”.
Volunteering for the foundation is no easy task: “The emotional toll on me and the volunteers is very challenging; we see the violence occurring in these families and have to keep our composure and stay professional to help and support the victims”. Another challenge is when victims go back to an abusive home and the opportunities to help them are limited. “When we do the support, in a few cases the member of the family that has been abused may not show up in court, and that is challenging because they go back to that same situation, where the violence usually continues.” But over the last17 years, Greg has learned that when children at risk have an opportunity to learn from his foundation and other similar groups, they are much more likely to dial 911 when in danger, and this can make all the difference in the world.
Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).