Luncheon held for Crime Victims’ Rights Week
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Hidden Gem Family Center of Gatesville hosted various county government offices for a lunch this week in honor of Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
April 18 through April 24, is National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, where victims of crime and the advocates who help them are recognized across the nation.
Jenny Featherston is the Crime Victims Assistance Coordinator at the Coryell County Crime Victims Office, which assists victims and family members of victims of a crime in the county. Featherston works primarily with Coryell County District Attorney Dusty Boyd on any death-related cases and with fraudulent or theft cases. There is another coordinator who works with victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence.
As a Crime Victims’ advocate, Featherston said that it is a requirement to do something during the Crime Victims’ Right Week “to get information out into the community about victim’s rights, whether it be an advocate in a legal setting or in a center.”
This year, Featherston said that the Hidden Gem Family Center partnered with the District Attorney’s Office for a luncheon. The Hidden Gem Family Center is located at 115 S. 7th Street and is still very new, but the center hopes to begin providing counseling services and parenting classes at its current location and eventually begin offering low-cost childcare and transitional housing and more to Coryell County and especially to crime victims who need these services.
“They are working on providing services for our county, which we don’t have a lot of, so we wanted to show the building,” Featherston said. Featherston is on the board of directors for the Hidden Gem Family Center.
Featherston and her sister cooked a tasty lunch of burrito bowls and all the fixings on Monday and invited the staff from the D.A.’s Office as well as any crime victims and family members to the lunch.
“We also recognize our law enforcement during this week because they’re the ones we get our cases from,” Featherston said.
During the rest of the week, the Hidden Gem Family Center and Featherston hosted the Gatesville Police Department and the Texas DPS office, as well as Copperas Cove Police Department and the Coryell County Sheriff’s Department, before hosting a final luncheon for the Probation Office, CPS, AWARE and other partners that the County works with.
“It’s just a way of saying thank you and then show them the start of this new facility and that we’re working together,” Featherston said. “We’re not the same. We have the D.A.’s office, and then this [Hidden Gem] is a different entity, but we work together.”
The Crime Victim’s Office falls under the District Attorney’s Office. Like other counties across the state, Coryell County and its District Courts are seeing a backlog of cases due to the pause on trials due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As COVID restrictions ease, in person trials will begin resuming by May.
Featherston said that the county will see two trials a month as they ease back into jury trials.
“We have seen probably an increase in family violence during the COVID time because of being home more with each other, and we’re all ready to get back to work to see these trials move,” Featherston said. “We’ve got a really good crew in our office that are very passionate about all of the cases that we deal with.”
District Attorney Dusty Boyd said that trials moving forward again has been challenging.
“Jury trial dates are so very valuable because there’s only so many of them a year, and when you take into consideration we haven’t had one for a whole year, we have to prioritize what’s important, what really needs to go to trial, and first priority is the jail obviously,” Boyd said. “It’s people that have been in jail, waiting for over a year or waiting even longer than a year. It’s been a real challenge to triage what needs to go first in combination with what witnesses are available.”
Boyd said that he wants his office and the courts in Coryell County to be caught up in a year and a half.
The Crime Victims Office also has Winston, the therapy dog, who has been anxious to get back to comforting people.
“It’s been hard on him because we haven’t had as many people in the office, but when they come in, he’s excited,” Featherston said. “He misses seeing them.”
For Delisa Sandell, the Crime Victims’ Office was so helpful that she became a volunteer for the office herself. Sandell lost her 16-year-old son, Ethan Sandell, two years ago in a car wreck that involved a minor being provided alcohol by an adult. Two people were killed, and another was injured as a result.
Sandell made it through the ordeal and leaned on Featherston and the other advocates in the Crime Victims Office.
“I was able to use the Crime Victims Compensation Resource in order for me and my family to get counseling afterwards, and the counseling here was wonderful,” Sandell said. “I just wouldn’t have known what to do. I called Jenny all the time. The papers I had to sign, I couldn’t understand a lick of it, in the first week after the accident, and so I was calling Jenny and trying to find out and taking everything to Jenny. She was just very helpful. It’ll be two years next week since my son passed away and she brought up the opportunity for me to be a volunteer with the Coryell County Crime Victims.”
Sandell said she was looking forward to helping others.
“I think crime victim advocates are very, very important because after something terrible happens, a traumatic event, you don’t even know what to do, where to go,” Sandell added.
For more information on the Coryell County Crime Victims Office, visit https://www.coryellcounty.org/page/coryell.Crime.