MARION COUNTY, SC (WBTW) – A community is only as strong as the people in it and Tammy Erwin has become a pillar in Marion County.

Erwin was nominated as a 2022 Remarkable Women finalist for her life-changing work at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office and her commitment to family, friends and her community off the clock.

“I was raised by a single mom and she taught me about working hard and leaving the world a better place than when you found it,” she said.

The moment we met Erwin, it was quite obvious she was driven to be a positive influence to those around her through her servant’s heart. Today, she’s doing that one person at a time as a victim advocate for the sheriff’s office.

That calling, however, stemmed from a dark time in her teenage years.

“When I was in high school, I was in a very abusive relationship and I learned then that I needed someone to rescue me and I wanted to be that person,” Erwin said.

Erwin has helped hundreds of victims navigate the criminal justice system in Marion County in recent years. Through her work, she strives to be a voice for victims and families of victims of crime and to help lead them onto a path of both healing and justice. She’s the first to say her line of work is a marathon — sometimes taking years to get cases moved through the system — but she says it’s one with a silver lining.

“I meet the best people and unfortunately a lot of times, it’s at their worst moment,” she said. “But for me, it is an outlet to love and to show God’s love.”

That dedication earned Erwin Deputy of the Year in 2018 and played a key role in the Marion County Sheriff’s Office receiving a National Victim Service Award.

“I call her my ‘shero’ because she’s just that — super woman, super mom, super friend. I admire her for all that she does in the Marion county community. I admire her strong will, even through some really tough cases. She’s simply AMAZING,” wrote Wanda Leggett, who nominated Erwin.

Current Marion County Sheriff Brian Wallace says that unparalleled passion to be a voice for the voiceless makes her a remarkable woman. He says that’s quite apparently in the way she graciously and delicately helps victims and families of crime, but also in how they embrace her.

“When the defendant (is going to) be in court — going to plead — they call her and request her to be there,” Sheriff Wallace explained. “They want her sitting with them throughout the process because she’s been with them the whole way. When I took office in 2017, one thing I wanted to do is make sure our victims got served and someone was standing with them shoulder-to-shoulder throughout the process. (Erwin) has just revamped victim services.”

And often times, her four-legged sidekick “Comfort Caj” is right beside her. Erwin was the driving force behind getting South Carolina’s first sheriff’s office therapy dog for crime victims to Marion County.

The idea actually stemmed from a 2016 event in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

“We had an event in our administration building. It was the governor here and there were some therapy dogs there that had come in from Charlotte,” Wallace remembered. “When those victims — those folks who lost everything — when I saw them come through the administration building, those therapy dogs were there. They just immediately had a big smile on their face, and the dog just sat there and let someone love on them. I said if that’ll fork for those — and the comfort they get and the happiness they get from going through that with Hurricane Matthew — I think our victims services (would too). So I tossed the idea out to Tammy, she took it and ran with it, and here we have Caj.”

These days, the dynamic duo of Erwin and Caj are everywhere around town, and while the team has made a major difference in the victim services unit, it’s also been a tool to help bridge the gap between the community and law enforcement.

“When we went into this, we had certain ideas of how it’s going to go and that’s not how it’s gone at all,” Erwin admitted. “But Caj has opened the doors for us. We go to the schools. We go to the nursing homes. He allows us to reach populations in Marion County that I never considered needed to be reached.”

Little did she realize, however, that included her brothers and sisters in law enforcement. Erwin found Caj became a source of comfort and a key to healing after the line-of-duty deaths of Mike Latu and Jonathan David Price 13 months apart.

“Even when the officers don’t realize they’re hurting, he knows. We had an officer — we had just lost Mike Latu. An officer was in the hall for something and he was very quiet,” Erwin said. “I knew he was struggling, but I don’t push Caj on anyone. I know this guy and he loves dogs, but Caj was just really aggravating him. Eventually, the guy just broke down and was like ‘Fine.’ and Caj just jumped in his lap and it was like 10 years of worry and stress melted right off that guy in front of my eyes. He knows who needs him and when they need him.”

Each year, Erwin helps organize remembrances and memorials for the two men. A reminder of that mission sits just outside of her office.

“I call myself the keeper of the flame. I don’t want people to ever forget the sacrifice they made for Marion County,” she said.

Erwin says it takes great strength to serve her community in what can sometimes present itself as difficult work. However, she’s the first to say it’s a calling and there’s a reason behind it.

“I don’t believe there’s anything such as coincidence. I think everyone is put into your path for a reason,” she said.

Erwin also organizes “Shop with a Cop” each year to make sure as many children as possible have a merry Christmas.

“She has comforted so many families that have lost a (loved one) to violence and tried to make their lives just a little easier,” Leggett also wrote in her nomination.

Outside of the Marion County Sheriff’s Office, Erwin is the mother of two children and is currently working towards her masters degree.