Author: Katrina Ganzler
Published June 9, 2014
I don’t consider myself a gardener, but I know when you want to plant some seeds for a flower garden you need a positive environment, enough water to soak up the nutrients, good soil so the crop develops strong roots, and most importantly, someone to take care of the plant so that it reaches its full budding to bloom into a gorgeous flower. The same care holds true for young girls. Unfortunately, children don’t get to select their environment to grow in and sometimes girls are left with challenging circumstances.
Many girls have been tragically impacted by violence and trauma leading them to enter the juvenile justice system. In fact, there are more than 30,000 girls referred to Florida’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) every year. These girls share a common set of characteristics that include histories of emotional, physical and sexual victimization an unstable family life, school failure, mental health and substance abuse issues. Girls that have been abused or neglected are twice as likely, as those without this history, to be arrested. The documented link between victimization and female juvenile crime stresses the need for a gender-responsive method to working with girls at-risk for juvenile justice system involvement. That’s where the PACE Center for Girls comes to the rescue.
An acronym for Practical Academic and Cultural Education, PACE is a nonprofit organization helping girls, ages 12 to 18, which have been identified as at-risk. Girls who enter PACE are behind academically and need extra help and guidance or counseling. PACE provides those services in a safe, non-residential setting. This prevents girls from entering the costly juvenile justice system and reduces the significant long-term costs associated with teen pregnancy, substance abuse, dropping out of school, unemployment and long-term economic dependency. Before PACE, girls involved with the justice system were either being placed in boys programs or placed further into the system for their own protection. There were no effective alternatives.
Since 1985, girls now have a place where they can learn the coping skills necessary to overcome their obstacles and remind them that they can do anything they put their mind to. Today, PACE has 17 centers in the state of Florida and has served more than 24,000 girls in the past 29 years. The PACE Center for Girls in Marion County opened in 2001 and has served more than 700 girls in our community. They offer free services to at-risk girls in the areas of goal setting, counseling, academic education, case management, career preparation, parent involvement, and transition services that follows the girls for up to three years so that they aren’t forgotten when completing their time at PACE. In addition to these impactful services, there is also the Spirited Girls curriculum that all the girls go though which helps them make positive decisions and lifestyle choices. This holistic, strength-based and asset building model specifically responsive to the needs of girls is now recognized as among the most effective programs in the country for keeping girls from entering the juvenile justice system.
Statistically, the PACE Center for Girls has proved this model is successful for at-risk teenage girls. Prior to coming to PACE, 70% of girls statewide failed at least one class in school and 26% had already dropped out. As a result of PACE, 94% of girls increased their academic functioning while at PACE; 65% advanced a full grade level; and 90% of girls earned high school credit or completed middle school courses. Locally, PACE served 129 girls last school year and 98% of girls increased academic functioning, 99% of girls did not commit a crime while enrolled in the program, 94% did not commit a crime six months after leaving the program, and 91% did not commit a crime one year after leaving the program.
PACE Marion is now conveniently located downtown, PACE Marion opened its summer session last year in a new facility, located in the heart of downtown Ocala. The new PACE Center is significantly larger, more conducive to meeting the education and social service needs of girls in Marion County and is designed to support future growth. They have multiple fundraising events throughout the year such as the Derby 5K and the annual Love That Dress fundraiser in March. They recently benefitted from the Wine & Tapas event downtown last month. If you want to take a tour and learn more about PACE Center for Girls and how you can help call 369-0571. To view some poems and art work done by girls who went to PACE click here.
PACE demonstrates that it’s not about where you come from; it’s about where you are going. Even in the harshest of environments, flowers can repair themselves and go into full bloom if they have the right tools and a whole lot of love.