First Baptist Academy fifth-grader Harrison Sears brought the breakfast to order with a banging gavel and a call of “All rise, now in session.”
Then attorney Joey Vaughn gave his opening statement at Thursday’s 12th annual “Together We Can” fundraising breakfast for the Justice Coalition.
Speaking to an audience of police, prosecutors and businesspeople from Northeast Florida as if they were jurors in a criminal case, he said they would be asked to reach a verdict to help the 19-year-old agency continue aiding the victims of crimes.
“Victims don’t know what to do, members of the jury,” said Vaughn, the campaign chairman. “… We must because if we don’t, who will?”
Crime victims were also among the 400 in the First Baptist Church of Jacksonville dining room, many part of the 300 open cases the coalition — with a staff of eight and additional volunteers — helps from its 1935 S. Lane Ave. office. One was Danielle Turner. Her 35-year-old husband, William Nesmith Jr., was killed Feb. 2 at the Blodgett Villas complex on West Fourth Street. She said coalition advocates were there hours after she buried Nesmith and will be there at the trial of the man arrested.
“They got me in contact with some people to help with counseling,” Turner said. “… They told me they will be there throughout all the hearings. It is actually a relief with not knowing what to expect and just having someone to hold your hand through all of it.”
The Justice Coalition, which has a $400,000 annual budget, was founded by the late Ted Hires in 1995. It offers crisis intervention and victims rights education for those affected by violent crime; counseling and support groups; advocacy at court proceedings and other help. It publicizes rewards for unsolved murders and missing people in its Victims’ Advocate newspaper.
Another victim spoke about the help the coalition has given her family since her mother, Zuheily Rosada, was killed a year ago working at a Flagler County gas station. Teysha Marie Silva-Roman, 17, called the help “a blessing,” including rent to avoid eviction and regular visits from Executive Director Ann Dugger, once with clothes for the Palm Coast funeral.
“To all the citizens of Jacksonville and the Justice Coalition, who have helped my family in difficult moments, please accept an enormous hug from my family,” Silva-Roman said. “May God bless every one of you and the Justice Coalition so more victims can be helped.”
For more about the Justice Coalition or to donate, go to www.justicecoalition.org.
Dan Scanlan: (904) 359-4549