Victim Assistance Program hosts its 29 annual Angel Tree Ceremony

AKRON, Ohio – Thousands of families gathered at the Akron Public Library Monday afternoon, but they didn’t want to be there. They were there for the Summit County Victims Assistance Program’s Angel Tree Ceremony.

“None of us really should be here today. We should be able to accept our loved ones, spend time with them, enjoy that time with them and here we are crying,” said Yalaunda Dortch.

Dortch lost her 21-year-old daughter, Teyaurra Harris, in April this year. She was caught in the crossfire of gun violence in Akron.

“She was an innocent bystander in the shooting that was going on at the time. She succumbed to her injuries,” Dortch said.

The Victim Assistance Program serves 5,000 people each year who have lost loved ones to violent crime. Leanne Graham is the president and CEO.

“We provide advocacy and education for individuals who have experienced tragedy in their lives, whether it’s crime-related or a traumatic event,” she said. “We provide a comfortable space for those people and that family to come and remember those who have lost their lives due to trauma.”

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On Monday December 5th the group hosted its 29th annual Angel Tree Ceremony.

“We provide a comfortable space for those individuals and that family to come and remember those who have lost their lives through trauma,” Graham said.

At the library, a display that reads ‘Gone but not Forgotten’ shows hundreds of photographs of victims who lost their lives over the past thirty years.

“Families from 20 years ago, families that lost a loved one last week,” Graham said.

No matter how much time has passed, the pain is still fresh for many as they write their loved one’s name on an angel ornament and hang it on Christmas trees throughout the library.

“To not be here, you always think about her, you always just want to call her, go see her but you can’t,” said Dyani Harris, Teyaurra Harris’ sister. “Everything changes and you change the same moment you lose someone so close to you.”

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Akron, in particular, had a violent and hard year in the schools and on the streets.

Mayor Dan Horrigan and his director of Youth and Community Opportunities, Denico Buckley-Knight, attended the Angel Tree Ceremony.

“The city set a pretty fast agenda with the American Rescue Plan Act dollars to not only address youth violence but youth opportunity and how we do that,” Horrigan said. “Non-profits are doing great work in that regard to reduce violence in schools and on the ground and it’s work on the ground that needs to be done, in my opinion, how we fund those non-profits.”

Buckley-Knight said they are working to fund those non-profits and combat violence at home, in schools and in the community.

“I too have suffered from incidents of violence in the community,” said Buckley-Knight. “Any time we lose a life, especially a young life, all of us have to deal with the negative effects of that.”

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Dortch said her family won’t be the same without Teyaurra, but she hopes the Angel Tree Ceremony will see fewer and fewer new pictures and names displayed each year.

Graham said for anyone suffering this holiday season, or anytime, to call them at 330-376-0040

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