Celebrating and Inspiring Young Women
Many remember their middle school and high school years as both the worst and best time of their life. It’s a time filled with changes, challenges, and big decisions to make. As a young woman, navigating the halls of school, succeeding in academics, building relationships and just believing in your talents and abilities can feel like a daily uphill battle.
For 16-year-old Emily, she’s excited about her future and dreams of becoming a chef, but she didn’t always have that dream. When she was just 4 years old, she and her 2-year-old brother were found wandering the streets asking for food after her mother, who had her at a very young age, was unable to care for her. After being passed around numerous foster homes, she felt worthless.
The catalyst for this change, making her dreams and future come alive, was PACE Center for Girls, a year-round, non-residential, educational and social service program, that believed in Emily when she couldn’t believe in herself. When PACE began in 1985, the doors were opened to 10 girls. Today, there are 19 centers within the state of Florida, each providing girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy.
Bringing Out Their Best
PACE Center for Girls Orange, located in Winter Park, was founded in 1991. Since opening, it has served, celebrated and inspired over 1,400 girls. In Orange County alone, 86 percent of PACE participants were failing one or more classes prior to attending the program and 39 percent had a prior arrest. Within one year after leaving PACE, 92 percent had no involvement with the criminal justice system and 88 percent of girls were in school, in college or employed.
“Statistics show that girls who were in the Juvenile Justice system as teens have a 10 to 40 fold increase in the rate of criminality and high rates of economic dependence on taxpayers. This is why investing in the needs of girls is one of the surest ways to break inter-generational cycles of violence, poverty and incarceration,” said Dr. Lynn S. Kiehne, interim executive director, at PACE Center for Girls.
PACE utilizes holistic, gender-responsive and trauma-informed services while providing a safe environment that celebrates girls, services that take into account how girls learn and develop, and staff that understand their lives and can respond to their strengths and challenges. This also includes using a strength-based approach that focuses on the unique potential of each girl, with a focus on future outcomes. Over the years, research has been done in order to measure the effectiveness of PACE, and the organization continues to conduct research through a third party to show how PACE is beneficial to female youth.
As with many organizations, community involvement and support is vital to the life and success of its initiatives. PACE welcomes volunteers and guest speakers to come be part of its movement and connect with its participants, as well as in-kind and monetary donations.
“The girls are inspirational, resilient, and just need an opportunity to see the power within themselves to change their situations,” said Dr. Kiehne. “This is PACE’s mission, provide a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy. Girls matter.”