Victims Services leadership changing hands

Linda Gallagher, Contributing Writer

Photo by Linda Gallagher

Antrim County's Victims Services Unit recently saw a change in leadership when original organizer and coordinator Shalene Sommer stepped down from her position. Taking over for Sommer is Bellaire's Jeri Brown, who has worked with the group since 2017.  Shown (back, from left) are: Becky Boni, Sharon Schultz, Andy Whipple, Lee Whipple, Pastor Gary Bekkering, and Naomi Sponable, (front) Shalene Sommer, Eloise Mateling, Gloria Szalay, Mary Loper, and Jeri Brown. Not shown are advocates Darlene Windish, Jessica Pletcher and Rachel Barrow.


BELLAIRE – Leadership of Antrim County's Victims Services Unit is changing hands.

Taking over the coordinator position for the Antrim County group, which counsels families of homicide, suicide, fatal overdose, or any other sudden, traumatic death, will be Bellaire's Jeri Brown, who has worked with the group as a counselor since 2017.

The assistant director of Ellsworth's Moms and Tots organization, as well as a secretary for attorney Bill Derman, Brown and her husband Doug have four children and eight grandchildren.

Handing over the baton to Brown will be the unit's original coordinator, Shalene Sommer, who worked with Antrim County Sheriff Dan Bean to start the group after she experienced a personal tragedy in 2008 when her husband committed suicide.

"Like all the victims of sudden tragedies, I needed help and someone to talk to right after it happened to help me cope so that I could make decisions that needed to be made," Sommer said.

After completing a Master's Degree in Social Work, Sommer approached Bean about similar groups active in 55 other counties at the time, and began organizing the group, which currently has 13 trained "advocates" or Victims Services counselors.

All VSU advocates are required to complete a minimum of 20 hours of training with the Michigan Sheriff's Association before being allowed to report to the scene of a tragic incident working with victims, which allows emergency personnel to perform required follow-up reports or further investigate the scene.

Advocates work in teams of two in making initial contact with victims, and afterwards place a follow-up phone call to ensure victims are coping adequately with the situation.

Victims Services Units are not involved in long-term assistance and are not long-term counseling groups.

"We're there only to talk to the victims immediately after the event to help point them in the right direction to other agencies that might be able to assist them," Brown said.

Some of the events the unit will respond to include homicides, suicides and natural deaths, fatal or life-changing natural disasters or accidents, drowning and vehicular accidents.

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