Nonprofit circling people with hope

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By all accounts, Vickie Walker has turned a tragedy into something positive.

Walker's husband, Jeff, was one of six people killed during a shooting at Trolley Square on Feb. 12, 2007. Jeff Walker, 53 at the time, died protecting his son, A.J., who suffered a serious brain injury during the tragedy.

In the weeks that followed, Vickie Walker spent countless hours watching over her then-16-year-old son and coping with the reality that her family had been victims of violence.

It was during those weeks that she came up with Circle the Wagons, a nonprofit organization that offers guidance and support to victims of violent crimes.

"It really has helped our family heal," Walker said recently. "Putting our efforts behind something to help other people."

The idea comes from the wagon circles the pioneers formed each night around their campfires, which helped protect them from the unknown.

In the same way, Circle the Wagons surrounds victims of violent crimes with a support system, offering resources to help them navigate their new situation.

Cans of Comfort are the main outreach. Each quart-size can holds sweets from Walker's candy company, D'list Confections, and comes with a 96-hour survival guide that provides the victims with guidance and a list of local resources. Utah law-enforcement personnel distribute the cans in the same way they distribute blankets and stuffed animals to comfort young crime victims.

Circle the Wagons currently operates only in Utah but hopes to expand nationwide.

"We've kind of held ourselves back nationally," Walker said. "We wanted to make sure we were doing something that could work. We have certainly done that on a local level."

Walker will travel to Philadelphia in October to present Cans of Comfort and Circle the Wagons at the Major City Chiefs Association fall conference. She hopes police chiefs across the country will join in distributing Cans of Comfort.

Like all nonprofits, Circle the Wagons relies on fundraising to help with operating costs. This year's annual Porch Party event is Saturday, Sept. 28.

"Grant money helps [with out mission],' she said, "but it's not for utilities." —

Porch Party

The annual fundraiser for Circle the Wagons features a live bluegrass band and a silent auction with a range of prizes.

When • Saturday, Sept. 28, 6 to 10 p.m.

Where • Eggs in the City, 1675 E 1300 South, Salt Lake City

Cost • $75 per person;