Inspired Justice in a World of Tight Budgets

by Diane Dimond on November 7, 2011

Lily the Therapy Dog Waits

Golden Retriever named Lily patiently sits at the glass entryway of a red brick building tucked behind Good Samaritan Hospital in Rockland County, New York.

Lily is a specially trained therapy dog and she instinctively knows just what to do when the next troubled person arrives. She gives comfort to the physically and sexually abused and it doesn’t matter if they are young or old, male or female. Lily, and the new Spirit of Rockland Special Victims Unit in which she works, is a God-send to everyone who walks in the door.

This isn’t like the Special Victims Units you see on television. There are no officers with guns bustling about, no metal desks or low hanging florescent lights. There is nothing gritty about this SVU.

Lily With Lt. Mary Murphy

Veteran Detective Lieutenant Mary Murphy greets you at the door. She arrives for work dressed like your friendly next door neighbor and with Lily in the backseat. Patricia Gunning, a senior sex crimes prosecutor with the District Attorney’s office is also there to gently walk victims through the system and gather the evidence needed to get a conviction.

Doctors, victim advocates and Child Protective Services personnel also have space in this building.

Children's Interview Room

The interior of this SVU includes walls painted in various shades of soothing pastels. There is comfortable padded furniture. Cheerful artwork featuring flowers and waterfalls dot the walls and down a carpeted hallway many rooms are outfitted with child-sized tables and chairs. Other rooms are designed to make adult victims comfortable. Some visitors are battered women, mentally or physically disabled, victims of human or sex trafficking and others are abused elders.

Interview Room for Older Victims

There is a medical exam room and next to it a beautiful bathroom complete with a private shower for victims who may need it. A sophisticated closed circuit TV system links the interview rooms with a large conference room where detectives can discreetly listen in to a traumatized victim’s answers without being intimidating. The system is also hooked up to nearby courtrooms which helps spare frightened children a trip to court.

The Spirit of Rockland is a one stop victim’s shop. The feeling you get here is one of caring, safety and a place of new beginnings.

Lily is Everyone's Friend

When victims relive their nightmare for officers Lily is always nearby. When tears flow she gently places her chin on the victim’s lap. She’s there for solace, warmth and something to cuddle.

Now here’s the best part. None of this cost taxpayers a dime.

Rockland County’s District Attorney Tom Zugibe realized what his county lacked in terms of services for the most desperate so he rolled up his sleeves and went out into the community. His mission was to build the county’s first Special Victims Unit.

D.A. Tom Zugibe

First, Zugibe got Sister Fran Gorsuch, the director of Community Initiatives with Bon Secours Charity at Good Samaritan Hospital to donate an under-used 32-hundred square foot building. Sister Fran did one better. She got the board to sign off on a long term, no rent agreement, plus free utilities.

“This is an extension of our mission,” she said. “We are so proud to be a part of this and have it on our campus.”

Zugibe then approached the daughter of a legislator who had just graduated with a degree in architecture. She was thrilled to volunteer to design her first project. A local decorator pitched in with a professional layout and color scheme.

Detectives Conference Room w/ Closed Circuit TV

To get demolition and rebuilding going the D.A. and his chief detective, Peter Modafferi, met with the local Joint Trades Council and presented their idea to several union leaders.

“The toughest contractors melted when they heard what we wanted to do,” Zugibe told me. Soon, painters, plumbers, electricians, tile setters and lots of others showed up offering help. Many were unemployed and eager to use their skills again.

They all arrived with donated supplies – toilets, wiring and lighting fixtures. A local paint store contributed, a carpet company provided flooring, the Home Depot down the street kicked in with drywall. Others contributed child sized furniture, toys and books.

'Waterfalls" by DiDi Angel Artist Mike Jodry

The artwork that caught my eye when I visited was donated by volunteer artists at DiDi’s Art Angels, a group with the mission to “wipe out white drab walls.” Office furniture was scrounged from the county’s stash of stored items.

“We did it all for no money,” Zugibe said proudly. “And what was so rewarding? Nobody said no. Everyone we approached agreed to help.”

Artist DiDi D'Errico (front) and Can-Do Volunteer Angels

Visiting the Spirit of Rockland inspired me and made me remember that America is a great country filled with caring and generous people.

Right now, we’re suffering through a period of “Can’t – Do.” Our economy is in tatters, unemployment is debilitating us and there’s no great spark of hope at the end of the tunnel.

But, we are the spark. We light our own way. We are famous for making something big out of nothing much at all. Tom Zugibe and all those who donated their time, goods and elbow grease proved it by creating the Rockland County, New York Special Victims Unit.

Now, what can we do to get America rolling again?

home

 

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Olivia Cribbs November 7, 2011 at 9:51 am

What a wonderful thing you have done. I have adopted and raised 2 sexually abused children and know their struggles and pain. This center will truly help people in this horrible time of their life.
Thank you to all the people that jumped in to make this possible. God bless all of you.

Reply

Diane Dimond November 7, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Facebook Friend Caryn Clark writes:

“What a great story of a community working together. AND, an awesome way to use a therapy dog. ? ? ? Wonderful story, Diane Dimond!”

Reply

Diane Dimond November 7, 2011 at 12:15 pm

Facebook Friend Jesse Callender writes:

“Thank you so much for sharing!! I work with a local dog rescue here in Arkansas, and if people just knew how healing a dog can be in their lifes, there would be no need for shelters!! It’s been proven that seniors with pets live longer and are happier and healthier!! I’m so thankful you’re a dog lover and pass on stories like Lily’s! God bless you, Diane!!!”

Reply

Diane Dimond November 9, 2011 at 10:45 pm

Huffington Post Reader Joy Twesigye writes:

“Love it! You are so right on the money that we need to take charge of our collective destiny and move forward. But I think once the pep talks are over fear takes over. I’ve been reflecting on what gets me over fear here http://pit­chforksopt­ional.com/­2011/10/26­/how-an-8t­h-grader-d­ealt-with-­failure/

Reply

Diane Dimond November 9, 2011 at 11:18 pm

Dear Friend Patti Petow writes:

“Patti Petow Why can’t the whole country just do this. It’s the way it’s supposed to be. What a role model Rockland County is!”

Reply

Didi D'Errico November 10, 2011 at 7:29 pm

DEAR DIANE,
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN
STORY… TO ME AND MY FELLOW ARTIST VOLUNTEERS IT’S ALL ABOUT VOLUNTEERING..GIVING
FROM OUR HEARTS.. YOU SPELLED IT OUT SO SUCCINCTLY
AND IT TOUCHED A LOT OF PEOPLE.
WE, AT DidiArt Angels BELIEVE THE REFLECTION OF THE
SOUL IS WHAT WE GIVE TO OTHERS
SHARING WHAT HAS BEEN GIVEN TO US.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BRINGING THAT OUT
TO THE PUBLIC. REGARDING LT. MARY MURPHY,
PROSECUTOR PATRICIA GUNNING, SISTER PAT,
D.A. TOM ZUGIBE AND DET. MODAFFERI.
(LET’S NOT FORGET DEAR SWEET “LILLY”).
GOD BLESS YOU,
DIDI
Didi D’Errico
PRESIDENT & FOUNDER OF DidiArt Angels

Reply

Diane Dimond November 10, 2011 at 8:49 pm

Thank you so much for writing, Didi! I’ve seen the soothing effect of your art work (and those of your volunteers!) Bless you for all you do!
Best, Diane

Reply

Carl D'Errico November 10, 2011 at 11:57 pm

With all the troubles in the world, it makes one feel so good to read about people (and animals) who give so freely of themselves to make this a better world. Lovely article!

Reply

Anita Busch November 11, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Fantastic story, Diane. Sharing your link on FB.

Reply

Matt Ross January 5, 2012 at 6:13 pm

Very heart-warming story!…..It has everything….A sweet, gentle dog to greet crime victims…..a D.A. who used innovative techniques to get the place built.(without taxpayer support)….and, finally, many kind-hearted souls who volunteered their talents & materials to finish the project.
Too bad victims of organized stalking, America’s Most Ignored Crime, won’t be using the Special Victims Unit, since the police never prosecute cases involving multiple stalkers, so these stalking victims never get any assistance from anyone, anywhere.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: