She signed up for one criminology class as an elective, but learning about the justice system, criminology theory, and high-profile court trials revived a longtime interest. “When I was younger I used to watch crime shows on TV, but I never thought about criminal justice as a career,” she said. “Before the middle of the semester I called my mom and said I think criminology is where I need to be.”
After that, Toy threw herself into criminology and enjoyed classes taught by people with real-world law enforcement backgrounds, dealing with law enforcement issues from child abuse to economic malfeasance. “There is so much diversity in the background of the criminology professors. They bring a wide spectrum of knowledge to the program,” she said. “They had a lot of experiences in career paths prior to being professors.”
Today, Toy’s goal is to help people end the cycle of domestic violence. As a family service and court advocate for the YWCA of Central Virginia, she teaches people in the community about abuse, helps victims prepare for court, and ensures victim’s rights are respected.
She got the YWCA job thanks to an internship, which was required for her criminology degree. As an intern, she observed court trials, received training for suicide prevention and helping children facing trauma, recorded data for grant applications, and more. “I was engaged to learn as much as I wanted to learn, they were willing to help,” she said. “I loved the internship so much that I did 12 credit hours more with the Y, and before I finished my first internship with them I was offered a part-time position.”
Toy and her team at the YWCA fill a vital role for people seeking help out of abusive situations. They take 10,000 hotline calls every year from people seeking advice and assistance, and they run a shelter that provides a safe haven for about 150 women and 60 children each year. In addition, Toy provides educational programs in the community and worked one-on-one with victims.
Ever since Toy graduated and began working full-time with the YWCA, she told her professors that she would love to come back to earn another degree from them. In 2015, she became one of the first students to sign up for Lynchburg’s Master of Criminal Justice Leadership degree. The program allows criminal justice professionals to earn a master’s degree in two years.
The master’s degree program has helped Toy gain new knowledge and skills to help in her career. For example, she has learned more about how laws are passed, which helps her as she works with legislators on victim’s rights issues.
She also has learned how she can be a leader in any context. “Even if you’re not in a leadership role, you can still be a leader,” she said. “Leadership is important not just for the title and career path, but for all aspects of life.”