There’s always light at the end of a dark tunnel, even though Josette Drummond couldn’t envisage it at the time.
Angry, confused and traumatized after her teenage son, Jalen Drummond, was viciously stabbed in the neck outside Christie subway station seven years ago by a gang in a case of mistaken identity, the Toronto school teacher was backed into a dim corner with seemingly nowhere to escape.
That was until a friend referred her to Victim Services Toronto (VST).
The multi-service agency provides crisis response, trauma and support services to victims of crime and sudden tragic circumstances 24 hours daily. Supervised by crisis counsellors, volunteers provide crisis intervention and referrals, assist on the telephone or attend the scene as requested and also aid with fundraising and other community outreach initiatives.
Within hours of contacting VST, a counsellor showed up at Drummond’s son bedside with a 10-pack chicken nuggets meal and words of hope. The steadfast support VST offered was instrumental in the Drummond family’s healing process.
“I was in the midst of the worst period in my family life and VST came through in a huge way,” said Drummond. “They supported us through hospital and school board meetings and they linked us with community supports. They were there for us by phone or in person for birthdays, anniversaries or just times when we were feeling low. They celebrated triumphs with us and helped us navigate through the complex web of social services programs.”
Satisfied with the overwhelming support she received, the single mother of three decided to join the organization.
“I needed to find a way to give back to Victim Services which did so much for me and my family,” said Drummond.
Her six-year term tenure as a board member ended last week, but she remains an active member as chair of the fundraising committee.
“Josette is one of the most important role models I have had the pleasure of knowing,” said VST executive director, Bonnie Levine, at the organization’s 19th annual general meeting and volunteer recognition dinner last week, where Drummond was the recipient of a Leadership in Excellence Award. “She’s articulate, passionate and someone who always brings out the very best in people. She’s an agent of change and a shining example of humanity.”
Levine said Drummond has provided the underfunded organization with key strategic direction and leadership.
“I can’t tell you how many times we have called upon Josette to be that public voice for victims and to educate others through the sharing of her own experience,” said Levine. “I can tell you for sure that her handprints are all over this organization and they are in every corner of the broader community. She is someone who always delivers.”
Drummond, who established a fund – The Believe Foundation – to help her son access the physiotherapy he required, said the award is a culmination of the dark period she endured after her son’s attack and the satisfaction she gained as a VST volunteer advocating for victims of crime.
Her son, who is now 21, has recovered from injuries which nearly severed his spinal cord and is a personal fitness trainer.
Leadership in Excellence Awards were also presented to Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) chair, Dr. Alok Mukherjee and Gail Bocknek.
After hearing a victim complain that he and his family weren’t offered victim services after their son’s homicide, Dr. Mukherjee initiated a review of Toronto Police Service (TPS) policies and procedures with regards to connecting victims to assistance.
When a review highlighted that referral to victim services was discretionary, leading to the potential for inequitable access, Mukherjee moved swiftly to change the policy to ensure that all families were offered assistance in homicide cases.
Since the policy change in 2010, hundreds of families have had access to VST and have been able to rebuild their lives after losing a loved one to homicide.
“Thoughtful, balanced and a deliberate leader, Alok wears his social justice lens at all of his decision-making tables,” said Levine. “His determination to work towards the betterment of society by addressing issues of access, equity and human rights is an example for others to follow.”
The TPSB board chair since 2005, Mukherjee was overwhelmed by the honour.
“For me, Victim Services has been one of the most important volunteer programs supporting what we do in TPS,” he said. “These are people who give their own time helping those who need critical psychological support and a physical presence to lead them through trauma and the pain they are suffering.”
An independent professional training and coaching professional, Bocknek has been a VST volunteer for the last 14 years.