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Amberly's Place: 11 years as voice for victims
Craig Zablocki has a lot he could be bitter about. His sister was raped and murdered 26 years ago after going out for a jog. Police never found the killer.
“Dad said there were two paths we could take,” Zablocki told guests at the 11th anniversary gala of Amberly's Place on Friday.
The family could either become victims and view life negatively or “we could take her life and do something better,” said the keynote speaker from Denver, Colo.
Zablocki chose to use humor as a healing power and has shared his brand of humor with more than 900,000 people internationally and across the U.S. In Yuma, he talked about the importance of being silly, letting go of fear and living in the moment.
Most importantly, he challenged those in attendance to become not only interested in being a “voice for victims” but also actively standing against abuse by pledging at least $10 a month to Amberly's Place.
“Amberly's Place is a safe haven,” Zablocki said.
Indeed, Veronica Bretag, Amberly's mom, noted in a recorded message that she wished the family had had a place like Amberly's Place when her 10-year-old daughter was sexually assaulted and murdered in her room in 1996. Bretag described the center as a “safe, warm place for victims.”
The crisis center has provided services to more than 17,532 victims of abuse since opening its doors. The center has been so successful in helping crime victims make their way through the maze of the justice system and pick up the pieces after a traumatizing event that it now needs to expand.
Executive director Diane Umphress announced plans to look for a larger building to allow for more family rooms for more privacy and a bigger playroom for children.
“I know this community will make it happen,” Umphress said.
The board of directors and staff chose the occasion of its 11th anniversary to honor “partners” who have helped the center “be a voice for victims.”
The honorees were Sgt. Luis Marquez of the Yuma Police Department, Sgt. Raul Garcia of the Yuma County Sheriff's Department, Mary Megui of Child Protective Services and Cece Federico of the Yuma County Attorney's Office.
Several members of Yuma School District 1 were recognized for their role in helping a 12-year-old female victim who is autistic and unable to talk: Rusty Tyndall, principal of Gila Vista Junior High, teachers Pamela Mariscal and Diana Robledo, counselor Elaine Gossman and superintendent Darwin Stiffler.
Lowe's was recognized for helping to make Amberly's Place Thrift Shoppe “a nice place for victims to shop.” The Smith Family Trust was also honored for its support.
Inductees into the Director's Hall of Fame included Yuma Sen. Don Shooter and Reps. Russ Jones and Lynn Pancrazi for their role in the adoption of Senate Bill 1369, a new state law that keeps conversations between a victim and an advocate confidential even in the presence of a third person
Board president Russell McCloud also honored Umphress for being instrumental in the passage of SB 1369 and helping draft the language for the bill.
“Diane personally recognized the need” for this bill, McCloud said. “What she started and came up with will spread across this nation and will impact many people.”
Umphress also recognized the local media for its role in “allowing victims' voices to be heard.”
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.