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Niagara County Rape Crisis Services is looking for some dedicated individuals to serve as volunteer advocates on behalf of sexual assault victims and their families.

"We're looking for commitment from these people," said Charles DiMartino, administrative assistant for the county Department of Mental Health, Alcohol and Drug Abuse.

"The volunteers feel they are giving something back to their community. And that's what volunteerism is all about."

The advocates provide telephone counseling to sexual assault victims and their families, accompany victims to the county's five hospital emergency rooms and can stay with victims during medical examinations, court appearances and police interviews.

They may also participate in various community activities to support the cause, Rape Services director Darcy Saraf said.

She said the advocates provide extremely important services helpful in "getting the victims back to their previous level of functioning."

"They all have their own personal reasons for why they volunteer," DiMartino said of those currently providing advocate services. "For the most part, it is that they are people who want to give something back. They are a very valuable resource to our department and to the people who are helped by them."

Candidates must undergo a complete interview process, which includes a check of personal references, Ms. Saraf said.

After that comes a mandatory 30-hour training program. Those who successfully complete that must undergo an additional 10 hours of training within their first year.

The training begins this week. Anyone interested should call Ms. Saraf at 278-1940 for more information.

"We have gotten a pretty good response from the community in the past," said Ms. Saraf, whose agency assists about 200 crime victims each year throughout Niagara County.

She said that officials "aren't real specific about the type of person" needed for the job. "We determine who is appropriate during the interview process," she said.

The Rape Crisis Services program is about 10 years old and is funded by the State Health Department and Niagara County. In addition to counseling and accompaniment for crime victims, the program also provides awareness/prevention programs for local law enforcement, school, hospital and community groups, Ms. Saraf said.

Advocate training takes place twice yearly, generally in the fall and spring.

Training sessions take place one Saturday per month, for two hours per session.

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