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The best is yet to come: how two girls from Pace Broward will thrive after graduation.

Emily, a senior at Pace Broward, hadn’t attended school in two months before coming to Pace. Toni, also a senior at Pace Broward, reflects that “Pace literally turned my life around.” From immediate counseling services to one-on-one educational support, Pace provides a holistic support system for girls to help them become strong, compassionate, and successful women.

Emily, now on her second to last day of high school, recognizes that Pace “changed my mindset on how I see things. I wasn’t an optimist – I wasn’t able to see the positive side of things. Being here is a weird change, honestly, coming from a place that’s not supportive… everybody [at Pace] wants to be here and help the students.”

Inspired by her Pace Reach therapist, Emily will begin studying Psychology at Broward College in June to one day become a therapist herself. Having lost someone very close to her by suicide, she hopes “maybe I can help people and change the outcome so it’s not devastating to the person, the family, and people around them.” Emily’s support team could not be prouder of her for using her experiences to make the world a better place; she’s even receiving a scholarship from Pace to help with her college tuition.

For Toni, a career in cosmetology – much like attending a Pace Center – is a family tradition. She is excited to continue following in her mother’s footsteps by enrolling in cosmetology school after graduation. With her teachers’ help, Toni has been able to research different schools to find the right fit.

While the road to graduation hasn’t been easy, the past five years at Pace have been transformative for Toni. She says: “The whole program helped me a lot with my behavior issues. I love my counselors, because they listen to their girls, they hear them out and advocate for them.”

Graduation at Pace Broward is fast approaching, and Emily and Toni both feel a mixture of anxiety and excitement. The girls are nervous about the changes to come, and the many unknowns that exist in adulthood, but they know they have bright futures ahead. Toni says: “I’m excited because I get to go out in the real world and explore new things,” while Emily shares that she can’t wait to spend her life “doing something I’m actually interested in, so it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

With graduation upon them, Emily and Toni have sage advice for their younger selves, and for girls like them too. Toni reflects: “I would tell my younger self to never give up on your dreams and keep going.” Emily gratefully acknowledges that “things do change, and it’s not going to stay the same forever, even though it feels like it.”


How Mental Health Counseling Helps Pace Girls Reach Their Potential

Nearly three years ago, Summer Kirk signed up to change lives. In the years since she joined the Pace Pinellas team as a counselor, Summer has served hundreds of girls – providing a steady support system as girls navigated the COVID-19 pandemic, youth mental health crisis, and a regular slew of challenges such as poverty, bullying, and mental health.

A holistic support system is one of the biggest benefits Pace girls gain in counseling. Girls often enroll in Pace in a tough spot – having struggled with their relationships, schoolwork, or mental health. Summer says: “Some of the girls don’t have that person who they can look to for help or guidance or direction. That’s a big piece of counseling – not only mental health tools but providing support, if they ever need anything, or need to talk to somebody.” Having this reliable, compassionate, and trusted presence in their lives empowers girls to be the best versions of themselves, and even when things don’t go to plan, girls know that they always have a supportive place to land.

The past three years – amid a global pandemic – certainly haven’t been easy for middle- and high-school-aged girls. Summer remembers “it was like pulling teeth to get girls to come into school” at the beginning of the pandemic. Social anxiety and depression spread like wildfire, and girls really struggled to re-immerse themselves in their educational and social lives.

Creative thinking from Summer and her peers allowed Pace staff to continue serving girls despite these challenges. From counseling appointments in the parking lot to home visits, Pace staff ensured every girl felt supported. Through counseling, girls learned how to process their life experiences, new coping skills – like how to cope with challenging thoughts and behaviors, and how to manage their emotions. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but Summer is inspired by “the little progress girls make every single day.”

This dedication and innovative thinking makes Summer a truly exceptional counselor, and her colleagues and students aren’t the only ones who think so. This month, the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas honored Summer with the 2023 KidsFirst Cooperman-Bogue Award, an award honoring exceptional social service professionals who consistently put kids first. The Juvenile Welfare Board governs financial investments in organizations that “give children the best opportunities to lead meaningful and purposeful lives.” Summer certainly fits the bill.

This Counseling Awareness Month, we’re grateful for the incredible work all of our counselors do every single day. Not only do counselors teach valuable lessons and provide useful skills – but they change the trajectory of our girls’ lives. Summer says: “Girls enroll in such a hopeless place. Six months to a year later, they’re in such a different spot. So many girls have graduated or gotten to a really good place, and they couldn’t have done it without the support systems at Pace.”


At Pace, our team of dedicated teachers, counselors, therapists, and directors foster safe, supportive, and inclusive environments for our girls to help them reach their goals. Get involved with Pace and check out our current  open positions!  


Inspired By Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson and Their Community, Two Georgia Girls Are Making It Clear That They Aren’t Accepting The Status Quo

May 1st is a day for high school seniors across the nation to celebrate their successes and look ahead to their future: National College Signing Day. For Sakiyah and Tatiana, high school seniors in Macon, Georgia, their motivation for success they say, “comes from their community.”

Tatiana, who cites Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as a source of inspiration, is graduating as the valedictorian of her high school class and will major in Political Science at Howard University in the fall. She hopes to become a Senator and among her many accolades, she is a recipient of the highly selective Bill Gates Scholarship.

Sakiyah will attend Georgia Southern University and is the first person in her family to graduate high school and attend a four-year college. She is in the top 10 of her high school class academically, works more than 30 hours a week and recently was crowned prom princess.

Both girls made it clear that young people are not accepting the status quo. Instead, when they see a problem, they find a solution. Community challenges? They address them. Systemic failure? They study legislation and rewrite the system.

“In Macon, crime is very real. For people my age, you end up dead or you end up in jail,” shared Tatiana. “I joined the law academy my sophomore year of high school by force. I originally wanted to be a doctor. After taking the class I realized I was into politics, and I wanted to help my community.”

The girls reported that they believe the biggest challenge facing high school girls in their community is an inordinate amount of anxiety and stress — much of it centered on “graduating high school and doing well without a lot of support outside of school.”

While college enrollment has fallen overall since the onset of the pandemic, enrollment for young women in 2022 dropped at twice the rate of men. These statistics are alarming, particularly for young women like Tatiana and Sakiyah, for whom a college degree can be a critical tool for a successful future.

Both girls identified additional stressors during their senior year of high school and enrolled themselves in the Pace Reach Program to receive additional counseling services beyond what their mainstream school provides. Kourtney Mikell, the girls’ Pace Reach counselor, emphasized the need to understand the role mental health plays in getting girls to and through college.

“In college, I plan to be enrolled in multiple clubs and organizations like I am now,” said Tatiana, who is a member of Skills USA, DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America), a student ambassador and a member of her high school’s news team. “Ms. Kourtney helped me come up with plans so that whenever I feel overwhelmed, I have a safe place and safe steps to know what to do.”

“Mental health varies. When you recognize you are not okay mentally, you have to accept it within yourself before you can get help,” shared Sakiyah. “Mrs. Kourtney has helped me be more open to things and express my feelings.”

Both girls recognize they have a significant role to play as young leaders — using their voices and talents to make a difference in their families, schools and community. More importantly, they recognize the importance of self-care and prioritizing mental health.

As for what she envisions her community’s future looking like, Tatiana said, “I will advocate for women’s rights until the day I die.”


Investing in Women and Girls’ Futures 

January is Poverty in America Awareness Month — a time to recognize the past and present effects of poverty in our communities. The cost-of-living crisis facing the world is putting women’s livelihoods, health and wellbeing at risk.  

Pace Center for Girls often operates in the intersection between poverty, mental health, and education, with 90% of Pace girls living below the poverty line. For Lisa Spears, Pace Reach Manager in South Carolina, this statistic represents an opportunity to better serve girls, their families and communities.  

That’s where Pace’s Reach program comes in. Pace Reach is in more than 17 communities across Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, and provides free mental health services to over 1,000 girls every year. The girls and young women we support receive academic instruction and work closely with counselors trained in trauma-based therapy and suicide screening. They also get life coaching to learn basic life skills, such as personal hygiene, shopping for groceries and how to land their first job.  

For girls growing up under the poverty line, having access to counseling and therapy isn’t a given. And with the other challenges associated with poverty — like working extended hours, caretaking duties, and lacking resources such as laptops or reliable internet access — middle and high school girls can slip through the cracks. That’s why Pace Reach therapists are so critical: “Sometimes you have to help elevate a girl’s voice to get her at the front of the line,” Lisa says.   

One Pace girl shared: “My family and I had been facing some challenges — a lot of it came from financial struggles. The tipping point was the eviction, which hit me really hard. When we were forced out, the people took everything — my clothes, my laptop, all the things I needed for school, and I felt guilty. I prided myself on being an overachieving 16-year-old, and I believed I could have done something to prevent this situation. A mentor of mine recommended that I reach out to Pace and talk to someone. I am the most resilient person I know and because of Pace, I can recognize that.”  

From increasing their grades to working on improving their mental health, Pace girls go on to succeed in school and have a real sense of their worth. That’s what makes Lisa so hopeful for the future of the girls she supports. “We say to them: ‘Once a Pace girl, always a Pace girl.’ They have pride in the fact that they participated in Pace and improved their skills and ability to make safe and healthy decisions.”  

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Are you a girl who’s interested in Pace? Know a girl who may benefit from our programs? Click here to learn more about life at Pace and how you can enroll.   


Empowering the Next Generation of Female Leaders

Pace gives girls an opportunity to grow and learn, providing the tools to become more confident, responsible, and active community members. In March, Pace Clay girls Emily and Lilly attended the Feedback+Jacksonville Peer Learning Session, where they learned from local nonprofits and community leaders and were empowered to share their vision for a Jacksonville that listens to girls.

Emily, a ninth-grade student who has attended Pace for more than a year, took away a valuable lesson from the session: feedback matters. Emily uses this learning every day in her role as President of the Pace Clay Girls Leadership Council (GLC) alongside the Vice President, Lilly. The GLC promotes Pace in their community, serves as role models at school, and plans events and presentations for their peers. Emily’s core responsibility on the Council is to be “a voice for the voices of the girls.” She says: “I’m making a change. I’m advocating for me and for them so it makes me really happy to let them know that they’re not alone and that they have me here for them.”

Lilly, a tenth-grade student who has attended Pace for eleven months, shared that she learned “there are many parts that go into making community improvements.” This is certainly a lesson Lilly has taken to heart during her time at Pace. By engaging in the Pace Clay community and taking advantage of the services that are available to her, she has excelled. She has progressed from middle school to tenth grade in less than a year at Pace and serves as Vice President of the Pace Clay Girls Leadership Council.

As the Vice President, Lilly is responsible for collecting and responding to feedback from her peers. She incorporates what she learned at the Feedback+Jacksonville event, saying “I respond to feedback by letting the girls know what can be changed or why it can’t.” Lilly is also proud of the presentations she has put on for her peers. This year, she has presented on breast cancer awareness and on the effects of nicotine in young adults.

The leadership experiences available to Pace girls like Emily and Lilly help girls envision the future they want for both their communities and for themselves. For Lilly, the GLC has shown her what having responsibility looks like, helping build confidence in her leadership skills. This confidence will serve her well as she hopes to one day become a medical sonographer – helping expecting parents and other people in the community.

Through the GLC, Emily has learned “to advocate for myself and others” and “to think outside the box.” She hopes to join the Air Force, and then go to college to become a family lawyer. From advocating for her peers at Pace to one day advocating for families in the courtroom, Pace’s lessons on leadership will impact Emily for years to come.

But beyond their personal goals, Emily and Lilly use what they have learned at Pace to envision a better North Florida for everyone. Lilly hopes for a “future in North Florida where girls can have a voice.” Emily dreams of “a safer place for girls where we can walk down the streets without fearing that anything will happen to us.” She wants everyone to “respect girls no matter what we are wearing because we are not objects, and clothes don’t define us.” With Emily and Lilly leading the way, North Florida is certainly on the right track.

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Are you a girl who’s interested in Pace? Know a girl who may benefit from our programs? Click here to learn more about life at Pace and how you can enroll.