Pennies to aid in keeping kids safe

Mary Manning Centre strives to heal children’s painful pasts

Mary Manning Centre strives to heal children’s painful pasts

While families around the region are getting ready to celebrate the holiday season, some young residents are just learning to celebrate a life free from sexual abuse, thanks to the efforts of the Mary Manning Centre, Child Abuse Prevention and Counselling Society of Greater Victoria.

“We see more than 200 children a year and, for such a small agency, that’s a lot of children,” says Sandy Bryce, executive director of the centre. “We’re offering these kids hope again, after something occurred that never should have happened to them.”

The centre, which turned 26 this year, was picked as one of Black Press’ charities for the annual “Pennies for Presents” campaign, and remains B.C.’s largest child sexual abuse intervention program. The group is partnered with a victims’ services branch that allows Mary Manning to serve not just children of sexual abuse, but also domestic violence and general abuse as part of its new mandate.

“We know that domestic violence has a huge impact on children, and being able to serve these children under one umbrella means that we can reduce the trauma they have to endure further when bouncing from one agency to the next,” says Bryce. “Walking through that door can be one of the hardest parts.”

The centre is funded in part by the government and in part by community donations, and was just awarded a 2011 Service Provider Excellence Award by the Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond Representative for Children and Youth organization. Now, the group is seeking provincial accreditation, meaning the centre will be recognized for its level of outstanding service in the community.

Still, provincial cuts and thin donations this year have left staff and volunteers working double-time trying to secure funding, while the small Cook Street office is packed with file folders, kids toys and waiting chairs. The group is still waiting to find a permanent space big enough to serve its clientele.

“There are still so many people out there who need our services but don’t know we even exist,” says Mary Manning board director Jessica Van der Veen. “We see about 200 new clients each year, but the statistics are showing us that that number should be threefold.”

Despite numbers from Statistics Canada, which say one in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual assault before age 18, getting the word out about services remains one of the centre’s biggest challenges. The group teams up closely with the Victoria Women’s Sexual Assault Centre, but most clientele — age three to 19 — come through police, crown, or social services referrals, though some do come to the centre directly.

“There are still a lot of stigmas we have to deal with in 2011, but what we try to help people understand is that these kids are not damaged goods. These are our children, they’ve survived a bump in the road, and they will recover,” says Van der Veen. “Big things happen to little lives. We have to be here to help each other.” M

Learn more at marymanning.com. To donate to centre and the “Pennies for Presents” campaign, drop off your unwanted change at Black Press head office, 818 Broughton St., or at any participating business.

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