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Ami Lunsford Memorial Scholarship in Victim Services

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Ami Elizabeth Lunsford graduated with a BA in social work from The University of Texas at Austin in 1996. Ami was an exceptional student who demonstrated a passion for helping people by being an advocate for social justice. Ami volunteered as a counselor to crime victims and their families with the Austin Police Department while she was in high school. After graduating from UT she put her skills to use at the Arc of Austin, working with mentally and emotionally handicapped children and adults.

Ami died September 9, 1996, the victim of a violent crime. She was 23 years old. In her memory, the Social Work Student Council created the Ami Lunsford Memorial Scholarship in Victim Services.

“This loss reminds us that life is precious,” said Dean Barbara White. “Ami was such a promising social worker and could have helped so many others.” The Social Work Council wanted to turn this tragedy into hope for future social work students. The Ami Lunsford Memorial Scholarship in Victim Services provides support for social work students whose goal is to assist individuals and families who have been victims of crime.

By Nanci Lunsford, mother of Ami Lunsford

The Ami Lunsford Memorial Scholarship in Victim Services at the University means so much to me and my entire family as it was started by the students and council — Ami’s friends — and was endowed in a very short time.

Ami was very active in high school — usually an officer when she belonged to an organization. But she did not know what direction she wanted to channel her life. Once she discovered social work and the many directions she could take, she had found herself. While still in high school she became a volunteer with the Austin Police Department and, when she turned 18, got the training to become a counselor and go on actual calls. This was not an attribute she inherited — to the contrary, it scared me to death knowing that she was going out at night around people and places I worked hard for 18 years to keep her from experiencing. This and every single other assignment she received in her training really pulled this mom’s head out of the sand.

One example I remember was a call she received to commute to a bad part of the city. While in bed, a mother had been shot and killed in a drive-by shooting. These people were victims of stray bullets. They were in no way affiliated with any crime. The husband and four or five children were in the living room, understandably in a state of shock, and terribly lost with regards to every aspect of this crime. I remember telling Ami, “I don't know how you do what you do... All I could think about was that there was a dead person in the next room.” Ami’s response (always more calm and mature than mine) was, “Mom... she was with God. It was the rest of the family who needed our help.” It was a simple and humbling reply. Ami had everything in perspective.

During the time she was working with children as a training assignment she had a small child disclose abuse to her, which was apparently a big event to happen to a student. She did what she had been taught and turned the case over to the right people. She left feeling that the child would be removed from the abusive situation. Once again I asked Ami, “How do you do it? I would have had to just bring her home and hide her out.” Ami laughed and replied, “The system can only work if you work within the system, Mom.”

Her training also involved working with AIDS patients. In yet another incident where she made me a better person, I said, “Ami, I wouldn't even know what to do or say to a person with AIDS.” (This was in the 90s). She replied, “Mom, the first and best thing you can do for these patients is to give them a hug. People are so afraid of AIDS that their own families don’t even hug them.” This is another lesson that has been a blessing to me in later years when friends’ kids contracted this terrible disease. You really don’t have to say or do anything. A hug seems like the best thing.

After she graduated in May 1996, she got a job with the Arc of Austin, working with mentally and emotionally handicapped children and adults. She was happy in this role and did well. She continued her work with the Austin Police Department. Social work was where she belonged and she was happier than I had ever seen her. I had lunch with her the Friday before she was murdered and she was late. She explained that she had to give every single one a hug before she left or they would have their feelings hurt. They let the children and adults she helped come to her funeral. One of them asked my permission to “kiss Ami because they loved her and missed her.” I said, “Yes, I think she would like that very much.” And I’m sure she did.

Ami was murdered by a boy she had gone with in high school and part of college. He had moved away and returned and began stalking her. The note he left was textbook: “If I can’t have her....” We now know the serious signs of a stalker. They were less prominent in the 90s. He also killed himself.

After her death, the Austin Police Department Crime Victim Services changed the name of their Volunteer of the Year award to the Ami Lunsford Volunteer Award in Crime Victim Services. Ami’s family and friends appreciated this greatly and the award sits on my mantel today.

At the time of this writing, our legislators are deciding whether to allow guns on college campuses. There are crimes — assaults, rapes — on and off college campuses. One doesn’t pick up a paper without reading about a murder or suicide that has left numerous crime victims in its path. Unfortunately, there are more battered women and children than there are places to house them. So many mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers have family fighting in some foreign war in the Middle East and when we lose a soldier, there are crime victims created. I shudder now to think of the United States without the training given in the School of Social Work because, and I say this as a victim, we need all the help we can get to just go on living.

I don’t think there are many in the University community who have not been touched by some form of violence or don’t know someone who was a victim. I feel this is one of the most important schools in the University and feel like there may be a time when the men and women trained with the help of the Ami Lunsford Memorial Scholarship in Victim Services will help the majority of the people in the University community. The sky isn’t falling — we live in the best country in the world and there are so many wonderful things about our blessing. But the reality is that with the good comes the bad, and when victims need help, the School of Social Work at The University of Texas and the students training in crime victim services are a necessary and welcome part of those blessings. I hope very few need them, but when they do, they are invaluable.

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