RICHMOND, Va. -- In Richmond, a group of women has dedicated their careers to supporting victims in court as their cases play out.
Throughout the halls of Richmond's courts, this group of women is responsible for guiding victims of crime, or in some cases, their surviving loved ones, through some of the hardest times of their lives.
"They're already traumatized and just to have someone there as an advocate in the courtroom is very helpful," Sharron Saunders, the director of Richmond Victim Witness Services, said.
The group helps with things like applying for assistance, keeping track of their cases and preparing them for what to expect in a trial.
"I think that's a really important role that I think is not necessarily seen by many people," Sarah Lesniewski said.
Programs similar to the one in Richmond exist across Virginia. The Richmond program is now in its 31st year and the 11 people working in the office have decades of experience among them.
"Most of us have a compassion and an empathetic personality to help others," Saunders said.
Each of those working in the office found a different way to the job. Tammy Jones, one of them, first lost a cousin and then a goddaughter to violence.
"I always say this job called me. This job became my ministry. I didn't go looking for it," Jones said.
Each worker handles between 300 to 400 cases a year. Saunders said that they would like to hire more employees if they had the funding.
Along with the court cases, they also take part in other initiatives like the Homicide Support Group.
"We do try to support our victims as much as we can," Saunders said.
They also support each other as facts and photos from cases can linger in their minds.
"It's definitely the family that you have here that helps you through the trauma because it can be hard up there," TaWanda Woody said.
"Working with these people, they're like my family," Ester Marshall said.
The group's efforts haven't gone unnoticed, with the team receiving Virginia Program of the Year honors in 2021. Following many cases, those they support can be seen and heard giving thanks, as the family of Sharnez and Naziah Hill, the mother and daughter killed at the Belt Atlantic Apartments in 2021.
"Our family could not have made it through this without the overwhelming support and prayers of the community and people all around, I mean, from the Commonwealth's Attorney to the Victim's Services," Destiny Hill, the aunt of Sharnez Hill, said.
The women said that while it's not an easy job, it is a rewarding one.
"We don't do it for the thank you, we do it because we want to help them. But it just gives you that kind of peace that you know you're doing the right thing," Lesniewski said.