WINNIPEG -- A Winnipeg non-profit organization offering support for victims of childhood sexual abuse is widening the scope of its services to better address what its executive director calls “a public health issue” for which need far outweighs the amount of available resources.

Heather Leeman heads the Heartwood Healing Centre, which was known until this week as The Laurel Centre. Leeman told CTV Morning Live that the centre’s name change accompanies a move to expand, enabling it to help heal the trauma of childhood sexual abuse, no matter who has experienced it.

“In the past, we primarily focused on serving women. One of the techniques we have implemented is that we now serve all people who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. We recognize that gender is not binary, and we’re just trying to get away form that sort of male-female binary and really communicate to everyone that has experienced (abuse),” Leeman said.

A key element of Heartwood’s services is its commitment to providing those it serves with long-term trauma therapy, which can last up to two years. Leeman stressed the importance of ensuring this long-term program remain free-of-charge to those who need it.

“We firmly believe that people have the right to free services to heal from this form of trauma. Abuse can affect anyone regardless of gender, ethnicity, lived experience or cultural identity,’ said Leeman.

The centre’s new name is a metaphor for the healing journey clients embark on and what Leeman describes as the resilience all clients possess, often without realizing it.

“Heartwood is the centre of the wood. That’s the strongest part of the wood and it is the part of the wood that supports the growth of the outer layers of the tree. This has a lot of significance because we see the strength in all people who’ve experienced childhood sexual abuse and we see us as people who support those who are growing with their transitions.”

A WELCOMING ATMOSPHERE

The centre, on Roslyn Road in Osborne Village, offers those it serves an inviting atmosphere for those who have experienced abuse, and there’s a good reason for that, according to centre worker Mira Woods.

“There is a lot of shame and stigma that surround their experience and their history of abuse, so it’s really important that our centre be a welcoming space for them. It’s a space where they get to decide what their needs are and kind of lead their healing journey with us,” said Woods.

Leeman says the centre has heard from current and former clients and community members about the need for post-treatment programs and supports, and it is in the process of rolling out new programs that help clients stay connected even after therapy concludes. A full list of services provided by the Heartwood Healing Centre can be found on their website

-with files from CTV’s Rachel Lagacé