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SWCC announce 2019 Faces of Hope

WORTHINGTON -- The Nobles County Attorney's Office and an Independent School District 518 counselor have been named this year's Faces of Hope. The nomination-based honor is given by the Southwest Crisis Center to individuals or groups who demonst...

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The Nobles County Attorney's Office is one of this year's Southwest Crisis Center Faces of Hope recipients. Pictured are (front seated, from left) Nobles County Attorney Kathleen Kusz, Adam Johnson, (back, from left) Mara Jeppesen, Melanie Barritt, Braden Hoefert, Matthew Loeffler, Barb Smith, Hilary Klenken and Brenda Rodriguez. (Alyssa Sobotka/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON - The Nobles County Attorney’s Office and an Independent School District 518 counselor have been named this year’s Faces of Hope.

The nomination-based honor is given by the Southwest Crisis Center to individuals or groups who demonstrate support of individuals affected by domestic and sexual violence. The Nobles County Attorney’s Office staff and District 518 Area Learning Center Counselor Jami Wahl will be honored May 11 at the SWCC’s sixth annual Faces of Hope Fundraiser and Banquet at the Worthington Event Center.

“Each of these individuals have gone above and beyond to support survivors,” the SWCC announced in a press release.

The fundraiser will also include a cash bar, dinner catered by the Bluestem Restaurant in Luverne, live gift-basket auction and entertainment by Twin Cities-based capella quartet Tonic Sol-fa. Doors open at 5 p.m.

Funds raised will help provide services to survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their children from Cottonwood, Jackson, Nobles, Pipestone and Rock counties.

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Tickets to the SWCC’s Faces of Hope Fundraiser and Banquet may be purchased on the organization's web page under the “events tab” at mnswcc.org .

More information about the event is available on the SWCC’s Facebook event “Faces of Hope Banquet Featuring Tonic Sol Fa.”

Jami Wahl The ALC school counselor of four years was nominated after showing “her dedication to working with survivors and her ability to be a face of hope” for students at the ALC, her nomination letter stated.

As a counselor, there’s a myriad of things Wahl does to help support students. From creating a graduation plan, completing new student enrollments, coordinating state mandated-testing and individual counseling, Wahl comes into contact with a lot of students.

She pays attention to what’s going on, and shares community resources with students who may be in need.

Wahl, who has 15 years school counseling experience, said it didn’t take long for her to be aware of the SWCC upon relocating to Worthington. That is due in part to the SWCC reaching out to the appropriate staff within the school district, she said.

Wahl said she, along with school social worker Tammy Markus, coordinate dates, times and classes that members of the SWCC may visit with students.

“What we’re trying to do right now is to get into the classrooms and educate students on relationship concerns - like signs, red flags to look for,” Wahl said of educating students about personal relationships or trafficking. “So they can be aware of that and know what to do when they come upon those (concerning) situations.”

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She said by and large, school is a safe place for a lot of students.

“It’s a comfort area,” she said. “They know and trust the people here and that there are resources for them.”

Nobles County Attorney’s Office The county attorney’s office will be recognized for a variety of support services for victims, including providing a safe space for them to wait before a court hearing, asking and considering victims’ input regarding cases and encouraging victim-impact statements.

“These gestures may seem small to others, but it is vital and so important when working with individuals who have not felt heard or safe,” the nomination letter stated, adding that staff are helpful to answer questions SWCC members may have about the judicial process.

Nobles County Attorney Kathleen Kusz attributes that work not only as required by Minnesota state statute, but to her staff.

“It really matters who we have doing the work,” Kusz said. “I’ve got staff that care about this stuff, and that’s why we do what we’re doing.”

That staff includes one member whose priority is to work exclusively with crime victims and witnesses.

With grant funding assistance, the office was able to hire Brenda Rodriguez, a bilingual crime victim/witness coordinator. Since she began in early 2018, Rodriguez regularly informs victims of their rights, resources available to them and helps victims navigating the judicial system. She may even accompany individuals in the courtroom or attend a hearing if they’re unable and inform them of the outcome.

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“(Other staff) have always tried to do those things, but with Brenda here, it’s a priority and it gets done,” Kusz said. “It’s at the top of her list.”

The office will soon have to apply for grant renewal.

The office also underwent a construction project to help enhance the office’s victim services.

In 2012, a new meeting room funded by the county was constructed in a space within the county attorney’s office that affords victims or witnesses a private space to wait before testifying.

According to the nomination letter, this space affords victims the opportunity to wait in a private space away from people they may fear.

Kusz said the office’s vision is to seek justice, not only for the public, but for victims, witnesses and defendants.

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Jami Wahl

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