A SusanvilleStuff Photofeature
by Marshel and Jeremy Couso
“At Lassen Family Services we like to think of ourselves as a proactive agency,” said Executive Director Peter Celum, holding up a pair of snow shoes at opening ceremonies for the organization’s annual Walk A Mile event Saturday, “so for a modest donation we can make these available this morning…”
Luckily for walk participants the snow never materialized and instead walkers enjoyed a lovely, if not a little chilly, April day at the Lassen County Fairgrounds.
“This morning we walk for strength, we walk for resilience and we walk for justice in support of victims of crime in our community as we observe the 2017 National Crime Victim’s Rights Week,” said Celum as he began the morning’s program.
National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, first designated by President Ronald Reagan in 1981, is meant to increase general public awareness of the wide range of rights and services available to people who have been victimized by crime.
He thanked the Walk A Mile sponsors, more than 70 of whom contributed to the annual event. A number Celum called, “remarkable… and truly a team effort.”
Casey Simoni spoke as a survivor of domestic violence. She told of being raised in a home where domestic abuse and violence were the norm. That domestic abuse, she says, led her to a life of substance abuse which only ended after authorities stepped in.
“My strength has always been my children,” explained Simoni. “I never wanted them to turn to bad things like I did. I don’t want my daughters to think love is abusive or my sons to think it’s ok to hit the women they love.”
Simoni pointed to her arrest in May of 2015, after three years of what she characterized as solid addiction, as the turning point when she began to get the help she needed to overcome. She gave thanks to the local agencies who made a difference in her life saying she was “awakened.”
“The tools that I was offered by the Department of Children and Family Services, Lassen County Alcohol and Drug, Behavorial Health, Pathways and Chris Cox Counseling are irreplaceable in this community,” said Simoni.
“The charges against me, I do not carry in shame,” she explained, “instead they are a glowing reminder of what I am not, and a beacon to what direction I will never go again.”
Simoni thanked a long list of agencies and individuals, “Everyone in this community and this county that invested just a little more than their job requirements into my resurrection I appreciate. I believe justice was served.”
“I define resilience as me, Casey Simoni,” she concluded. “I am resilient. I have the ability to bounce back from anything and the tools provided to me in this county prevent me from ever falling again.”
Susanville Mayor Kathie Garnier read a proclamation made by the City Council for National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and recognized Lassen Family Services for restoring hope and providing services to those in our community who are in need.
“We proclaim the week of April 2nd through the 8th, 2017 as Crime Victims’ Rights Week,” said Mayor Garnier, “reaffirming the city’s commitment to supporting all victims of crime during Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and throughout the year, and to express our sincere gratitude and appreciation to those community members, victims service providers and criminal justice professionals who are committed to improving response to all victims of crime so that they might find relevant assistance, support, justice and peace.”
Deana Bovee’ a social worker with experience in child welfare, adult protective services and within the native American population, said that in our community most of us know someone who has been a victim or survivor of a crime.
“Crime should not be viewed as someone else’s problem,” Bovee’ said, “but rather a community problem that often has devastating effects on individuals, families, neighborhoods, schools, businesses and the community as a whole.”
“All members of our community have the ability to help a family member, friend and even a stranger who may be harmed by crime. Providing support and empathy to victims of crime during difficult times will help the victim feel safe and supported. Community members can volunteer to help crime victims at Lassen Family Services, which strengthens the efforts to provide quality services and support to survivors who greatly need them.”
LFS Child Abuse Treatment Therapist Shayla Ashmore, who began by leading the crowd in a foot-stomping warmup to combat the cold, was on hand to present the Empathy in Education Award to a ‘person who serves in our schools and is kind caring and compassionate and looks out for the needs of students.’
First she delivered special recognition to one of our community’s hardest working volunteers and the person who Ashmore said makes the Empathy award a reality.
“Every year I stand up here and I get to be the face of the Lassen Family Services Child Abuse Treatment program,” said Ashmore, “but the person who actually does all of the work never gets recognition up here. This award would not be possible, without Tori French.”
“The winner of this year’s Empathy in Education Award,” Ashmore then announced, “makes magic ice packs, picks kids’ heads for bugs, and according to the most creative entry form the staff at Lassen Family Services has ever seen… she sends us home when we puke and gives us new pants when we pee.”
“Living out a love for children every day by handing out crackers for belly aches, calling family, keeping kids safe and always being lovable qualifies Jessica Kortuem as the winner of the 2017 Empathy in Education Award.”
The nomination form was signed by 16 students in Maria Mankins’ transitional kindergarten class at McKinley School.
Ashmore quoted McKinley Principal Lynn Parker as saying Kortuem is trying to care for every student she can find, and that she just has the biggest heart.
“If I went and counted how many students she sees every day,” said Parker, “it would be outrageous.”
Kortuem began providing health care in 1996 and now often spends ten hours a day at McKinley Elementary where she has served as school nurse since the fall of 2010. The Air Force veteran is also the after-school program nurse for the Lassen County Office of Education.
“She is always nice, she is the best. We love her,” the transitional kindergarten students wrote on her nomination form. According to Ashmore their nomination included more than enough evidence to make Nurse Jessica the obvious winner.
Lassen Family Services Board President Gary Bridges recognized the staff of Lassen Family Services calling them an amazing bunch of folks and saying, “it just astounds me the love and care they put out there for a our community.”
Bridges honored Vanessa Bonilla, calling her a valued past employee of Lassen Family Services. Bonilla left LFS to work for the county but has remained as a crisis line volunteer for three years.
The LFS President also honored Penny Artz, a past member of the LFS board, and Director at Lassen Senior Services. Bridges cited the several years Artz spent on the LFS board as an amazing part of the success formula that built the organization.
“Lassen Family Services is committed to helping victims change the end of their story,” concluded Celum before sending walkers off to make the one-mile circuit.
“I come from a family of competitive runners and sometimes life is like a race. We may get off to a bad start, we may stumble at the start because of our own mistakes and poor choices. Or someone may cut us off because of their own selfishness and short sightedness. Or some may simply, and wickedly, be determined to take us out of the race which is nothing short of evil. But whether we stumble, get cut off or someone tries to take us what is most important is how we finish the race.”
“We can do something to help the victims change the end of their story and finish strong, and thats where strength, resilience and justice come in. So this morning we walk with purpose, we walk with resolve and we walk with determination. Until victims have a positive and redemptive end to their story.”