CEDAR RAPIDS — More than $30,000 was raised for the Horizons Survivors’ Program through its second annual Wine Gala and Auction, held Sept. 16 at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library in Cedar Rapids.
The money was raised through live and silent auctions, as well as goodwill donations.
The Survivors’ Program helps victims of violent crime and families and friends of homicide, as well as vehicular homicide victims, Christy Aquino, director of Survivors’ and Horizons Mental Health and Wellness, said. The program addresses the immediate and long-term needs of those affected by violent crime in 14 Southeast Iowa counties.
“It was a fantastic night,” Aquino said. “There were 200 people who attended, which is more than last year.”
Aquino said they raised about $24,000 last year and the goal this year was $28,000.
“People were eager and willing to give,” said Anastasia Basquin, a member of the gala fundraising committee and the victim/witness coordinator for the Linn County Attorney’s Office. “This program is so essential for families who need support. There were a lot of new faces at the event and many returning from last year.”
Aquino said they also had four new table sponsors, who donated $250 or more, and the Marion Hy-Vee store was the title sponsor. The store catered all the food for the event and donated a Hy-Vee chef for a night for a raffle. Organizers said store officials wanted to show support for the Survivors’ Program because it helped the family of Lynnsey Donald, 29, who was stabbed to death in the parking lot of the store on April 21, 2015.
One of the assistant managers of the store, as well as several customers tried to intervene when Donald was fatally attacked by her former boyfriend, Nicholas Luerkens, 35, that day, according to trial testimony. They all testified during Luerkens first-degree murder trial in 2015.
Luerkens was convicted but he won an appeal for a new trial, which is set for Dec. 4 in Linn County District Court.
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Basquin said many people were “so moved” by the speakers during this year’s gala. Kate Peterson talked about dealing with her daughter, Biz, who was one of students in the Aplington/Parkersburg High School weight room that witnessed football coach Ed Thomas, 58, gunned down by a former player, Mark Becker in June 2009.
Becker was convicted of first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Basquin said Peterson told the crowd she wished there was a book on how to parent a child who has witnessed a such a tragic incident because she needed guidance. She said she leaned on Survivors’ victim advocates, Penny Galvin and BJ Franklin, for their knowledge and advice.
Aquino said the victim advocates help guide the victims and families through the court process. Most people aren’t familiar with the trial process and the advocates help prepare them and explain the proceedings.
During trials, the victim advocates usually sit with the families and let them know when sensitive or graphic testimony or photos will be shown, she said. In those cases, family members may not want to view crime photos. The advocates also serve as the spokesperson for the family with the press in high profile cases.
Aquino said the program also partners with Cedar Memorial, Lensing Funeral and Cremation Services and other funeral homes to provide quality services for the clients. Survivors’ is always looking for new volunteers and community partners to help with donations for lunches during trial, making trial baskets with snacks and other items and travel costs for the family.
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