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Our Proud History


In 1926, Reverend Bill Denton began what might be called an unorthodox ministry to reach people in need. It was shaped neither in the form of the institutional church nor the traditional structure of a rescue mission.

The Furnace Street Mission operated a boy’s halfway house, summer camps for kids on the streets and provided food and clothing during the depression. It also created what is now the oldest religious radio broadcast in the nation.


During World War II, Furnace Street Mission extended its support to those in the armed forces. After the war, it initiated missions in China, Japan, Korea, and South America. More than thirty churches have been generated by its work, including The Chapel and the Akron Baptist Temple.


Throughout the 1960’s, Furnace Street Mission focused on helping offenders by building a halfway house, which eventually incorporated three facilities and up to 70 residents.  From that experience, it recognized that something was missing from the correctional programs. That missing component was a sense of remorse for the damage to another person.

Our community provided 35 free services for offenders and nothing for victims - something needed to be done. Robert Denton, a PH.D student, presented an idea to Dr. Arthur Blum, head of the doctoral program at the School of Applied Social Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, one of the top 5 graduate schools in the United States.

Dr. Blum’s response indicated that in all the years of the School of Social Work, nothing had ever been done like his proposal. The soon to be Dr. Denton used his doctoral coursework to build the infrastructure including policies, services, research/evaluation and crisis intervention. Dr. Blum’s subsequent help enabled Victim Assistance Program to lay the early foundation of the program with a sound social science base of operation rather than just a well-intentioned “grass-roots” attempt.


With the efforts of Capt. John Cunningham, Chairman of the Board; Stella Long, Supervisor, Adult Probation Department, Common Pleas Court the late Richard Kinsinger, Chief Probation Officer, Common Pleas Court; and the Director, Robert Denton, Victim Assistance Program began to advocate for victims in early 1972.

Then in 1973, the aforementioned individuals met for lunch and reviewed several brutal crimes in the Akron area committed by early-release offenders from prison. These cases crystalized the early workings of informal crisis intervention. Someone said, “It’s time to do something [formal crisis intervention] instead of just talking about it.” On a napkin, a program was outlined. This lunch meeting led to the formal establishment of a program known as Victim Assistance.

This program was one of the first victim programs in the nation, which allowed others to replicate the services around the county as the Late Myron Tarbis noted in an address to the Welfare Forum in the mid-1976 Victim Assistance Program had blazed the trail for all victim services in the area.

As one of the firsts to incorporate these services, the agency was even able to certify our name as a registered trademark.

Eager to advance victim’s rights, Victim Assistance Program spent the next few years paving the way and advocating for victim compensation legislation, which became effective in 1976.  In addition, legislation to extend the mandate for the victim impact statement to the juvenile level was also a result of the integral role played by Victim Assistance Program staff.

Founding of NOVA

Due to Victim Assistance Program’s early efforts, the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA) was born. VAP’s founder, Dr. Reverend Robert Denton, was NOVA’s founding president from its first board meeting in 1976 until 1978. NOVA’s first national conference was held at the University of Akron in 1977. Dr. Robert Denton continues to remain involved with NOVA, its national crisis team and their continuing education program.

Victim Assistance Program’s mission has impacted higher education by the creation of the certificate in victim studies, which includes the victim in society, crisis intervention and disaster intervention courses at the University of Akron.  Its educational objectives have extended to schools, hospitals, churches and social service agencies.


As the agency began to rapidly expand, a decision was made to formally separate from the Furnace Street Mission and apply for its own nonprofit status. Victim Assistance Program became incorporated in 1994 when it received its 501(c)(3) status with the IRS. We believe our nonprofit incorporation date does not speak to the experience we possess. Therefore, when asked how old our agency is, we proudly provide our founding date of 1972. 

Between 1972 and 2012, Reverend and Dr. Robert “Bob” Denton was Victim Assistance Program’s first and only executive director. During this time, his leadership and commitment to victims’ rights moved the organization into the 21st Century. In 2013, a successor, Leanne Graham, was chosen by the board of director’s to continue Bob’s work and to move the agency into a new chapter.

Victim Assistance Program’s success has and will always be the product of its staff, board and community goodwill.