AUSTIN -- The Austin Police Department has a special unit dedicated to helping victims. It's made up of trained professionals who deal with the emotional trauma of crimes and accidents.
One of those counselors had an idea to ease the pain for young victims by letting kids have a ball during the worst of times.
Jackie Garrett is a lead crisis counselor with APD's Victim Services division. This group helps victims and witnesses of everything from sexual assault and murder to robbery and domestic violence. More often than not the victims are children.
KVUE rode along with Garrett to get a first-hand look at what she does every day.
The call was for domestic violence. After counseling the adults, Jackie turned her attention to the children. Two years ago she came up with a unique way to connect with them using soccer balls.
"With kids, sometimes it's hard to share that gap with them. To build a rapport with them, and a soccer ball is just a universal language," said Garrett.
Within seconds of Garrett handing a young girl and boy a soccer ball, they were both tossing them in the air. It was the exact response Garrett wants to see after a traumatic situation.
"The adrenaline starts pumping. And when officers get there a lot of times we ask people to sit down or to calm down, which is a very normal thing to do. But what ends up happening is all the adrenaline that's in the body goes to the stomach and then you see people shaking and they start sweating; their stomach starts hurting. What that is is the adrenaline getting stuck in the body, and if those kids would have the opportunity to just run and play for a minute it reduces a ton of that," Garrett explained.
She has turned her idea into a passion, handing out more than 500 soccer balls to date. Garrett has delivered them to children after the Bastrop wildfires, the Joplin, Missouri tornado, the fertilizer plant explosion in West, and the floods in Onion Creek.
Recently a group called Awesome Austin caught wind of what she was doing.
"We're interested in forwarding the interest of awesomeness in Austin. Jackie sort of had the whole package," said trustee Kerry Miller.
Miller and the other members of this grass roots organization voted to give Garrett $1,000 to make her “Have a Ball” project even more awesome.
"It's just really amazing how something as simple as a soccer ball can have such a big impact,” Miller explained.
And so will $1,000. It means 40 new soccer balls, 40 new smiles and 40 new reasons for people to call Jackie Garrett awesome.
If you would like to know more about “Have a Ball” or learn how to donate click here.