Pelican Bay State Prison recently celebrated advocates for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault as well as local law enforcement and those who work with foster youth.

Commemorating National Crime Victims' Rights Week with a luncheon on Thursday, prison administrators and staff sought to acknowledge the journey and courage of crime victims and survivors and honor those who advocate on their behalf, said Public Information Officer Lt. John Silveira.

"This year's National Crime Victims' Rights Week is 'honoring our past and creating hope for the future,'" Silveira said, quoting Victim Support Services' explanation about this year's theme, "'celebrating the progress made by those before us as we look to a future of crime victims' services that are even more inclusive, accessible and trauma-informed.'"

According to Silveira, National Crime Victims' Rights Week coincides with the passage of Proposition 8 in 1982, which established the Victims' Bill of Rights. Though Pelican Bay held its celebration on Thursday, National Crime Victims' Rights week took place April 7 through April 13 this year, according to Victim Support Services.

This year's award recipients include Deputy Sarah Asbury of the Del Norte County Sheriff's Office; Kira Morse, an advocate with the North Coast Rape Crisis Team; Cora-Marie Penn-Orona, a legal advocate with the Harrington House; and Jim Cunningham, an advocate with Court Appointed Special Advocates of Del Norte County.

Award recipients also included program specialists Lauren Cornelis, Adrian Lopez and Julie Doerner and social workers, who work for the Tolowa Dee-ni' Nation's Shu'-'aa-xuu-dvn Domestic Violence/Sexual Assault program. Tolowa Dee-ni' Nation social workers Heather Lopez, Carolina Arenas and Child Victim Advocate Tara Lopez-Eck were also recognized.

Supervisor Sheila Davis and social workers Dixie Martin, Katy Sanders, Sara Tucker, Ashley Dalbec and Robert Williams, of Del Norte County's Child Welfare Services program.

"We couldn't just pick one person to celebrate so we're celebrating our whole team today," said Crystal Nielsen, program manager of the Del Norte Social Services Branch. "Oftentimes the jobs do not just end at 5. They see the trauma in the eyes of the children and we hear the stories no child should ever have to repeat. We are there with children and families to the end, oftentimes making lifelong connections."

When she honored Morse, Maryann Hayes Mariani, client services coordinator for the North Coast Rape Crisis Team, said advocates in her field typically last an average of three years before moving on. Morse is starting her fourth year with the North Coast Rape Crisis team, Mariani said.

Morse works with survivors of all ages and genders, Mariani said, and is active in the organization's prevention program doing outreach. Mariani said Morse has grown in professionalism and poise during her years with the North Coast Rape Crisis Team.

"I feel inspired by Kira because I'm an old crone, I've been doing this for decades, and to have the next generation coming in and seeing that passion and that commitment is really resilience building for me," Mariani said.

In naming Penn-Orona, Harrington House Director Jolanda Ingram said in addition to being a legal advocate, Penn-Orona does data-entry half time and is a client advocate as well. Day-to-day chores like laundry, making a bed and getting a room ready for a client's arrival is part of that advocacy, Ingram noted.

"That's the stuff that our advocates do on a daily basis, not just the restraining orders and all the legal work and going to the courthouse," Ingram said. "She's there for these clients all the time and she goes above and beyond in her work duties, and not only that, she has three special needs children at home that she's caring for too. This woman is on the go constantly and I really appreciate her and all the work she does for the Harrington House."

Speaking on behalf of Del Norte County Sheriff Erik Apperson, Cmdr. Grant Henderson called Asbury the embodiment of selflessness. Asbury, who was named Deputy of the Year in 2018, works late hours, weekends and holidays making sure survivors' needs are being met, Henderson said.

"She also represents the fact that with determination and dedication an individual is capable of securing their own destiny," Henderson said. "Sarah is self-made and brings an immeasurable amount of depth to our investigations unit and this community."

Jim Cunningham was a CASA advocate in Grass Valley for years before working as an advocate for children in Del Norte County's foster system, said Christine Slette, executive director of CASA of Del Norte. In Del Norte County, child abuse often takes the form of neglect, which is compounded by mental health and substance abuse struggles, Slette said.

Knowing how generational trauma impacts children is important to agencies who work with local families, Slette said. Cunningham is a retired teacher, she said, and the case he was assigned to involved a youth who had been a foster child for a long time, hadn't had any stability and was struggling in school.

"Jim was an amazing advocate because he understood the impact of that trauma and how it was affecting his ability to be successful in school," Slette said. "He has done an amazing job specifically advocating for this youth to have a better success at school. He has an IEP, he has a behavioral plan and a lot of those needs weren't getting met because of a new teacher at the new school he was at. That's just a small little piece of what he's done."

Slette also thanked Pelican Bay State Prison for giving local organizations and agencies the chance to recognize their volunteers and staff for the work they do advocating for victims and survivors.

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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