Angela Smith Slater, 53, has only recently been able to classify herself as a survivor, and not a victim.
On Oct. 25, 2005, Slater’s son, Brandon, was murdered in San Bernardino.
The holiday season can be a particularly difficult time, Slater said, but belonging to Crime Survivors has helped tremendously.
The Orange County nonprofit provides a variety of services to crime victims and their families, and perhaps most importantly, Crime Survivors encourages victims to see themselves as survivors.
Slater, who found her way to Crime Survivors in 2015, was among hundreds of survivors who enjoyed a day of bowling, refreshments and fellowship during the Bowling, Meal Baskets & Gratitude Healing Program at Irvine Lanes on Sunday, Nov. 19.
As they left the bowling alley, attendees were given turkey dinner for their families.
Crime Survivors has hosted the event annually since 2004.
“It helps me a lot, especially during the holidays, when times are harder for me,” Slater said. “But being that I have events and something to look forward to, it helps me get past all the hurt and pain. But Crime Survivors is much more than (this) event. It’s bigger than that.”
Slater said that Crime Survivors founder and CEO Patricia Wenskunas provides encouragement, especially when emotions become overwhelming.
“She tells me to have faith and keep moving forward, even when I’ve wanted to give up,” Slater said. “I can reach out and call her anytime and I know she is always there.”
Wenskunas started Crime Survivors in 2003, a year after she was the victim of a brutal attack in her own home.
“Today, when they all come together, they feel like they can be themselves around other survivors,” said Wenskunas. “It’s more impactful because the holidays are triggering for trauma victims. Sometimes they have a very difficult time. They can have a couple of hours of healing.”
Diane Taylor, 40, of Huntington Beach connected with Crime Survivors two years ago.
Taylor had been suffering with PTSD and severe depression after years of abuse that began as a child.
“I was unable to find any help until I found Crime Survivors,” Taylor said. “I can leave my house now. I had been locked away in my house for about six years. I had to find a way to help myself because no therapist could.”
Taylor, who has attended several Crime Survivors events, said the gatherings are nurturing.
“You don’t feel so alone,” Taylor said. “You feel safe around everybody because everybody has been in the same situation.”
On Monday, Nov. 20, Wenskunas and Crime Survivors volunteers put their gratitude into action by delivering 500 trays of cookies and food boxes to law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California.
“This is a small way of thanking service providers who do so much to help crime victims,” Wenskunas said. “We want to recognize each one of them for the service, and this is a fun way to do that.”