The staff of Victim/Witness Services of South Philadelphia, Inc. (V/WSSP) works to provide victims of crime with as much assistance needed.
The agency located on 1426 South 12th St. in South Philadelphia, was founded over 20 years ago with the mission to provide direct assistance to crime victims, witnesses and their families.
The five staff members of the organization work diligently with victims to answer questions about court and police procedures, accompany victims and witnesses to trials at the Criminal Justice Center and provide short-term crisis counseling with referrals to counseling services.
“The courtrooms can be really overwhelming,” said Alison Sprague, executive director of V/WSSP. “We’re there to give basic information support — explain what the next step is in the process.”
Sprague, a South Philadelphia resident, is one of the founding board members of the organization and has seen how the organization has assisted victims with both financial and emotional support throughout the years.
Whether it’s to pay for a victim’s parking fee to attend court, replace items that may have been stolen — like a pair of glasses or breakdown the criminal justice system to someone who may not understand, the organization aims to make its presence felt in South Philadelphia.
V/WSSP serves the victims of South Philadelphia through the Pennsylvania Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund.
It is a state run fund that provides victims with reimbursement of medical and other expenses, including psychological counseling. V/WSSP receives its funding from the federal Crime Victim Fund, established by the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) in 1984. The fund is financed by fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders.
With the diversity of South Philadelphia, V/WSSP works to be accessible to all members of the community.
Between the five person staff, they are fluent in different languages including Vietnamese and Spanish. They also do violence prevention work with various cultural groups at the South Philadelphia High School to promote safety and non-violence to the youth.
Sprague and the V/WSSP team attend health fairs, health centers and a series of Asian markets to ensure all members of the South Philadelphia community are aware of their services. They do outreach to various ethnic groups in the community.
“No one wants to anticipate being a crime victim so they may not receive the information as well at first,” Sprague said.
Esteban Calel, a bilingual victim advocate at V/WSSP, feels his ability to speak both Spanish and English broadens the assistance they are able to give victims of South Philadelphia, especially those who speak English as a second language.
“Sometimes they just want someone to accompany them to make sure everything is secure,” he said. “When they have someone to go with them they feel more confident someone is there to back them up.”
Along with financial support and interpretations, V/WSSP has two independent therapists who come in occasionally to work with victims. Victims can call or just walk in the V/WSSP office to receive help or be directed for any assistance.
Along with the staff, the organization has various volunteers and interns who assist with outreach in the South Philadelphia community.
Dajah Park, victim advocate at V/WSSP, recently started working for the organization and feels it is just the kind of organization the South Philadelphia community needs.
“Before working here I wasn’t aware these types of services were available,” Park said. “These types of services make people feel comfortable.”