NEW PORT RICHEY — Gina Youmans remembers one of her interview questions when she applied to be a Pasco County Sheriff's Office victim advocate in 2005: "Could you hold a dead baby?"
She said yes, but wondered how she would handle it, if it happened. Within two years on the job, she dressed and helped prepare a baby for the mom to hold one last time.
Youmans said she was able to do it because she realized it was for a purpose.
That same mantra has carried her through countless crime scenes and court dates since she was hired. She advanced to become the county's victim-advocate supervisor in 2015. And on July 30, Youmans, 48, was named the Florida Sheriffs Association's first recipient of the Civilian of the Year award. She was chosen from more than a dozen nominees, said Matt Dunagan, the association's deputy executive director of operations.
"It was her exemplary work in that area that had her rise to the top," Dunagan said.
Youmans' name will hang on a wall at the Florida Sheriffs Association, and she received a $2,000 award, which she said will go straight toward her daughter's college meal plan.
She employs a "crime-scene to courtroom" model with her team — a term she coined, she said. Her advocates help victims and family members of suicides and crimes including homicides, sexual crimes, robberies, domestic violence and grand theft.
"I'm just doing what I love and doing what I do," she said.
Youmans' advocates start at the crime scene, explaining to victims why investigators and the media are there. In the courtroom, advocates explain why the defendant is getting a certain bond and may speak to the judge on behalf of the victim. They go through every step until they're standing next to the victim when a verdict is read.
Youmans leads a team of five advocates, one technician and two volunteers. After some recent staff turnover, Youmans has been hiring to fill those positions. Beyond the candidates' educational experience, she looked at their approachability and passion.
"There's definitely a special kind of person who has to do this job," she said.
As the number of cases grew, Youmans applied for and received a grant through the federal Office for Victims of Crime that she used to add another advocate and the technician earlier this year.
Rita Sapp, who has been an advocate for just over a year, said Youmans' passion radiates.
"She wears her heart of her sleeve," said Sapp, 38. "At the drop of a dime, she's there."
Even as a supervisor, Youmans still works on the front lines. She currently is working on a domestic violence strangulation case, a homicide case from earlier this year and the case of John Sexton, who was convicted in 2013 of murdering 94-year-old Ann Parlato but had his case reopened.
She keeps her spirits up by listening to Metallica and leaning on her team, she said. She considers them a family.
Youmans said she knows her work is meaningful when she hears victims' family members say that the only good thing about losing their loved one was that it brought them to her.
Keep up with all things Pasco County
Subscribe to our free Pasco Times newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
Contact Paige Fry at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @paigexfry.