Opening up to a teenager about being the victim of a really nasty crime might not be easy for an older person. But in Dominika Greszczak – at the age of 18 – Luton Victim Support has found an ‘older head on young shoulders’.
Dominika is a volunteer at the service which provides one-to-one support to crime victims of all ages, listening to them, giving emotional and practical support and helping them through to the other side of a traumatic event.
She has just finished a three-year Public Services course at Central Bedfordshire College with an eye on a possible police career, holds down several part-time jobs, does three days a week at Victims Support and on Saturdays is training to mentor young people with problems.
Now Dominika, of Tithe Road, Luton, has been shortlisted for the final of Atlas Converting Young People of the Year awards or ‘YOPEYs’ – Oscars for young people who ‘give to others’.
Dominika was nominated by Maggie Parsons, a tutor at Central Beds College in Dunstable. “Dominika has worked really hard this year, and after meeting a guest speaker from Victim Support who visited the college, she volunteered there and has gone through training. She is now supporting people and is very positive about the work she is doing.”
The nomination is also seconded by Saadia Khan, Victim Services Delivery Manager for Luton Victim Support. She said the service offers support to victims of crime, listening to them and offering emotional and sometimes advocacy support.
“We try to find the tools to empower the victim to move beyond the crime,” she said. “The qualities we look for in a volunteer include listening skills – listening to what a client says in their own words, with empathy – and body language that is open.
“Dominika has been with us since January and I am very impressed with her progress so far. She is very good at meeting a client’s needs. Another quality is the ability to let the client know that you understand how they are feeling.”
Saadia explained: “Dealing with people who perhaps are upset, angry and very emotional takes a real maturity. Dominika is only 18 but she is a very mature 18 with a good head on her shoulders. Since gaining her accreditation, she has already supported about three or four clients, victims of various kinds of crime.”
Dominika is currently supporting the victims of burglary, criminal damage, anti-social behaviour and hate crime. These are known as ‘core clients’ and Dominika has done the mandatory five-day core training which is City & Guilds accredited.
When she has gained enough experience she will be allowed to help the victims of more serious offences, such as domestic violence and sexual crimes.
Dominika has also attended networking events for the Luton team. “It might be difficult for a mature victim who is the victim of a really heinous crime to open up to 18-year-old, but Dominika comes across as very mature. I am very impressed with her,” added Saadia.
Dominika can speak fluent Polish as well as English. She was born in Poland and brought to the UK as a child. This gives her an advantage – which also impresses Victim Support – when supporting people in Luton’s immigrant community.
Dominika said: “I have always been interested in helping people and have done work experience in a nursery and worked with young people with anger management issues with The Prince’s Trust.
“I have just finished Public Services at college and found that really interesting and in the future I will perhaps look into going into the police. I am a ‘people person’ and like to be out there talking to people.”
She is currently doing a volunteer training course for GreenHouse Mentoring based at Stopsley. “It is mentoring young people with learning and behavioural difficulties and not doing very well at school and sometimes with family issues. We sit down with them and have a chat and try and help them,” she said.
“I heard about Victim Support when someone came into college, applied to be a volunteer and found it better than I thought it would be. I have had quite a few cases helping people of different backgrounds and cultures, and until you speak to someone who has been through a crime you cannot understand how it can affect them.
“I really feel we are helping these people, seeing their feeling of well-being improving and feeling safer. Helping someone get beyond the crime and them telling you that they have got over it is so fulfilling. It makes me happy that I could help change someone’s life!
YOPEY started in Bedfordshire in 2006 and has expanded to many other counties. Its founder, former national newspaper journalist Tony Gearing, said: “There are many young people in Bedfordshire doing wonderful things for others. It’s just that they live in the shadow of a well-publicised anti-social minority.
“We need to give young people the respect they deserve and set up the best as positive role models for others to copy rather than focusing on the small number who appear in the press for negative reasons.”
The Bedfordshire awards will be presented at St John’s College, Cambridge, this autumn.