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Dec
22

Mental Health During the Holidays

The media often presents the holidays as a cheerful time for all. Images of couples kissing under the mistletoe and families gathered around a warm fire dominate our screens throughout the season.

But sometimes, what should be a joyful time instead reminds people of the challenges in their lives; couples being asked when they’ll have children while silently battling with infertility or miscarriages, reminders of lost loved ones, family members experiencing the criminal justice system, or interactions with people who may have caused harm and trauma.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 64% of people with mental illness report that the holidays make their conditions worse. Children and teens are not immune from this, as the highest rate of child psychiatric hospitalizations occurs in the winter.

For young women and girls, who according to the CDC experience higher rates of depression than their male counterparts, it is especially important to have access to resources that help them cope with seasonal stress, depression and anxiety brought on by the holidays.

Pace provides support to girls by centering their experiences as young women in today’s world and recognizing how trauma may inform the choices they make.

“This Christmas will be hard for us because this will be the first Christmas without my dad,” said Jennifer, a 16-year old Pace student. “He passed on the 25th of September of this year, so the 25th of December will be even harder. I see my mom doing her best to be strong, so I’m trying to be strong for her. I just wish people understood that Christmas isn’t about presents – it’s about family, so don’t take them for granted.”

We could all use a little more kindness in our lives, so it’s always important to remember that you never know the internal struggles the person in front of you may be smiling through.

Everyone, regardless of their story, deserves safe and supportive spaces to heal. Keep in mind, it’s ok to take care of yourself in whatever way is best for you this holiday season.

Nov
18

Florida Blue & Pace Center for Girls – A Partnership Impacting Girls and Communities Across Florida

If the past year and a half has taught us anything, we’ve learned everyone can play a role in creating a more just and equitable society. For more than 35 years, Pace Center for Girls has been working to advance its mission and transform the lives of girls and young women.

For more than 20 years, Florida Blue, the state’s Blue Cross Blue Shield plan, has supported Pace Center for Girls with meaningful funding, advocacy, and employee engagement. The Florida Blue Foundation values organizations and programs that show promise of lasting community benefit and measurable impact.

Florida Blue’s support of Pace ensures that girls and their families have access to equitable academic and health opportunities, without regard to socio-economic status. 

Sejan, a senior studying chemistry with a minor in leadership at the University of North Florida, experienced these opportunities firsthand.

“Little did I know, when starting with Pace, I was about to receive not only non-judgmental and quality care, but a program and an organization that truly cared and strived to ensure my wellbeing and future academic success.”

Florida Blue’s continued support of Pace has helped build the capabilities and capacity needed for programming and service delivery, strengthening communities across the state.

In addition, the investment in specific markets across Florida directly impacts mental health services for girls and their families, as well as the greater community. This support has allowed Pace to focus on strengthening Pace Reach Counseling Services, providing much needed counseling, case management and mental health services in partnership with schools and community organizations beyond the walls of Pace Centers.

“Our experience with the Reach program was just indescribable. The therapist assigned to us was nurturing, calm and had the amazing ability to help us see things in a way we would not have been able to recognize on our own. Our Reach therapist helped untie knots in our complex relationship and recognize the good in each other.” – Gilda, Parent

Florida Blue’s partnership goes beyond the organizational level and connects at the individual level. It’s Women’s Interactive Network (WIN), a powerful group of more than 100 women, connects directly with girls in communities where they have great need for mentoring, school supplies and basic needs items such as food, clothing, and hygiene products.

True organizational partnerships are about more than a donation. Over the years, several Florida Blue leaders have donated their time by serving on the Pace Center for Girls Board of Trustees to help Pace advance its mission.

Florida Blue’s commitment to health equity, mental health services, and improving the communities it serves are evident in its investments and commitments to the more than 3,000 girls and young women that Pace touches annually.

Oct
27

Youth Justice Action Month

October is Youth Justice Action Month (YJAM), hosted by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice and the National Juvenile Justice Network.  This month, commemorated since 2008, encourages action to raise awareness and educate the public about the impact of the justice system on children.  The topics of this year’s YJAM included policies to keep youth out of the justice system, ending the treatment of youth as adults, and investing in families and communities to prevent youth detention and incarceration. 

We are proud to join the fight to create a world where all girls and young women have power, in a just and equitable society.  We advocate for legislation that develops comprehensive systems of care for girls at risk of delinquency and sexual exploitation; provides access to comprehensive wrap-around services, including well-being and mental health; and removes barriers to education and employment for girls. 

These efforts include eliminating gender and racial inequities in the juvenile justice system and ending the direct filing of children in the adult corrections system, which can lead to more serious harm and trauma.  Our focus also includes expanding the use of civil citations and other diversion programs that steer youth away from the justice system, while also ensuring these opportunities are provided to all youth equitably, regardless of race and location.  Additionally, we support expanding the ability to expunge juvenile arrest records after the completion of a diversion program, which holds youth accountable for their actions without jeopardizing public safety.

We partner with the Florida legislature and state agencies to provide holistic delinquency prevention and early intervention model that diverts girls from costly systems involvement and guides them toward a path to success at home, in school, and in their communities.  For more information about YJAM and reforming the youth criminal justice system, visit the Coalition for Juvenile justice at www.juvjustice.org and the National Juvenile Justice Network at www.njjn.org.

Oct
08

Teachers are Being Called on to Support Students Total Wellbeing

Teachers are increasingly being called on to be educators, counselors, and support systems for students. Schooling has been turned into a “universal large-scale experiment.” As of October of 2021, education in the United States has been impacted by COVID-19 for a year and a half.

While not alone, Pace Center for Girls has felt the push and pull of changes to learning, ways to support positive behavioral health, and how to provide a safe and trusting environment for our team members as well as our girls. We have experienced the deep systemic inequities of our families, differing approaches to dealing with stress, disrupted carefully crafted routines at our centers, and enhanced the vision of schools as “social-service providers and connectors”.

In the following PBS NewsHour Extra video, teens discuss feelings of negative thoughts, isolation, a desire to stay optimistic, and the need of love, support, and encouragement while going to school during the pandemic.

Although trauma-informed and trauma-responsive care is at the core of Pace Center for Girls services, this pandemic brings about new and challenging opportunities.

We, at Pace Center for Girls hear these concerns from our students as well. As we continue to live through, now the impact of the Delta Variant; dedicated educators and counselors at Pace Center for Girls continue to wrestle with how to ensure that collective care and responsibility for learning and self-care are constructed.

Our focus was and remains answering the question: How do we help balance our girls and team members’ physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing?

As our team members work diligently to support our girls, we have seen positivity and ingenuity through adoption of remote educational and social emotional technologies to help with this balance, improve grades, build good relationships with teachers and counselors, and ways to reduce class sizes.

  1. Microsoft Teams Video Conferencing allows our counselors and teachers to engage with our girls in both auditory and visual manners. Our National Office team members check in for counselors and teachers to assist in reducing anxiety a way for team members to participate in meetings, and easy access to classroom assignments.
  2. Smiling Mind App created by psychologist and educators, this mindfulness app assists with, staying connected, using self-care, and achieving emotional calmness.
  3. Wakelet provides a place for teachers to curate content and student a place to collaborate.
  4. Nearpod provides classroom curriculum that is tied to Florida Standards and allow the girls to engage our girls in remote and in classroom learning sessions.
  5. Google Classrooms to allow for creation, distribution and grading of lessons as well as assignments.
  6. Mentimeter, Poll Everywhere, and Padlet are all websites that encourage real-time response through live polls, quizzes and word clouds to check in with our girls and create engagement during group sessions and classroom lessons.
  7. Kahoot has a library of Social Emotional Lessons that help build empathy, provide opportunities to check in and even build resilience.

According to Psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth, the key to success is grit. So, as we move through this unprecedented time, we need to remind ourselves of two things:

  1. The importance and continuation of providing self-care, and
  2. that having passion, perseverance, and stamina to ensure your achievement of future goals is our way toward a better future.
Sep
27

Elevating the Voice of the Girl

When working with girls and young women, it is important to understand the implications of Gender Pathways Theory.  This theory demonstrates that girls are often involved with the justice system for different reasons than boys, including the type of offenses, the reasons behind the behavior, and how the offenses are carried out.  The most common reasons women and young girls head down this path include victimization, mental health issues, and substance abuse.  In fact, sexual abuse is one of the primary predictors of justice system involvement for girls.  Therefore, prevention and early intervention strategies to steer women and young girls away from and out of the justice system must include holistic treatment designed specifically for girls who have experienced trauma, rather than punitive environments and practices that may likely cause additional trauma.

Gender-responsive models have key program elements aimed at enhancing protective factors. Protective factors are internal and external resources, such as positive adult relationships, problem-solving skills, and a sense of hope, that help minimize the impact of stress and adversity.  Understanding the existing gender differences during development, such as learning style and relational preferences, helps build an environment where girls can thrive.  

Creating emotional and physical safety is a core component of our model.  This sense of safety is woven throughout the design of the program space by spending time and energy developing authentic connections between girls and team members and providing girls choices to take ownership for themselves.  Effective gender-responsive models are collaborative, share power with girls, and give girls opportunities to use their voice and grow as leaders. A focus on understanding the intersection of multiple identities, such as race, gender, and sexual identity, and celebrating each girl’s sense of culture are also critical to the success of the program.

The outcome we hope to achieve is for girls to feel empowered, gain a sense of mastery, and focus on healing through goal planning that is steered by the girls themselves.  Girls bring with them a voice and successful gender-responsive programming provides elevation and amplification of those voices.