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!