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Once a Pace Girl, Always a Pace Girl

A Conversation with Anita Crumbacker, Pace Class of 1985

In 1985, Pace Center for Girls, then called Practical and Cultural Education, was a new organization looking to help girls in the juvenile justice system by giving them an education and a new outlook on life.

“I didn’t want to go to school. I wanted to be like every other young person that I was around. I wanted to be free, do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it,” shared Anita Crumbacker, who had run away from home after being kicked out of high school during her junior year.

Anita eventually ended up in a detention center and the judge gave her two options: stay in the detention center until she was 18 or go back to school. That was when Pace came to interview her for the first time.

With only 10 slots to fill in the original Pace class, Anita met Vicki Burke, Pace’s founder, who explained to her the new Pace model, offering her a high school diploma and an opportunity for a better future. Vicki was a passionate young social worker who saw the inequities in the treatment of girls by the juvenile justice system and had the courage to bring about change.

Anita started her senior year at Pace with Vicki, three teachers, and nine other girls. They met in an upstairs classroom at the Snyder Memorial Methodist Church in downtown Jacksonville, Florida. Pace’s vision was to ensure that their futures were bright, the obstacles they were facing were addressed, and their needs were taken care of.

“I thank Vicki for believing in us. She saw a vision that nobody else saw, and she has helped so many young ladies,” shared Anita.

With only two weeks left before graduating, Pace helped Anita land her first job as a mail opener at Illinois State Scholarship Commission. She would eventually become a business analyst at the same company, working there for the next 16 years. Later, she worked at Blue Cross Blue Shield and Jones College where she had the opportunity to go back to school and obtain her bachelor’s degree in business.

“In the back of my mind, I always wanted to go back to Pace, to give back what was given to me,” she said.

I thank Vicki for believing in us. She saw a vision that nobody else saw, and she has helped so many young ladies.

In 2021, Anita joined the Pace Jacksonville team as a resource coordinator. The Pace she now knows looks very different from the one she had attended, with 21 centers in Florida as well as serving communities and school districts in Georgia and South Carolina. But the core values and principles that Pace was founded on remain the same.

Anita is inspired to show Pace girls, many who come from backgrounds similar to her own, that a career and a future beyond the obstacles they have faced are possible.

“There’s nothing more powerful than when I see a girl come into Pace that has had her back against the wall and then I look up and she’s back in school, or in law school, or trying to become a nurse or have a career that’s going to help someone else.”

Anita is still in close contact with three former students, including her best friend Erin and two staff members of the original group at Pace back in 1985. “From ‘85 to today, Pace has been a testimony to every girl that there is a future and hope,” Anita concluded.

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