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One Hundred Teen Girls Meet Florida Legislators at Pace Day at the Capitol

There is one engine that will continue to drive the future: the power of our girls and young women. We see every moment and new day as an opportunity for empowerment as we work to inspire and connect the next generation of leaders. 

More than 100 Pace girls from across the state met with members of the Florida House, Florida Senate and other elected officials and leaders at Pace Day at the Capitol. During two days of meetings, training and programs, girls learned about policymaking, ways to effectively advocate for themselves, and how to authentically share their stories.

“The speeches really got to me. It was empowering to hear Chancellor Kevin O’Farrell say that I could be signing his paycheck in the future and one of these offices could be mine,” shared Sadie, 14, a Pace girl from Collier at Immokalee. “And, when Josefina Tamayo said, ‘I will, I can and I do,’ that really got to me.  

Girls heard from Alice Sims, Assistant Secretary of the Office of Prevention Services for the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Chancellor Kevin O’Farrell from the Florida Department of Education’s Division of Career and Adult Education, Josefina Tamayo, CEO of Volunteer Florida and Sen. Jennifer Bradley, Chair of Criminal Justice Appropriations, who hosted a mock Senate session on the merits of requiring middle and high schools to have a later start time.  

“My favorite part of the day was the mock Senate session because I got to sponsor the bill,” shared Ryann, 17, a Pace girl from Jacksonville. “It felt like I was able to project to everyone that every girl has a voice. After participating in Pace Day at the Capitol, I’m inspired to hopefully work in legislation one day. I feel inspired to be one of the women I heard from during the Women in Politics panel and potentially have my own bill one day.” 

A panel of members of Pace’s Board of Trustees focused on Women in Politics and encouraged girls to set goals and consider multiple career paths. The panel included former Sen. Anitere Flores, Brittany Perkins Castillo, Chief Executive Officer of AshBritt Environmental, and Marva Johnson, Group Vice President, State Government Affairs for Charter Communications, and was moderated by Tracy Mayernick, of The Mayernick Group. 

“Because of Pace Day at the Capitol and the female legislators I met, I feel like I am not alone and capable of sharing my story to make a difference for future generations,” shared Jossmaire, 16, a Pace girl from Jacksonville.

“Pace Day at the Capitol gave me the opportunity to be myself, talk to other people and not feel uncomfortable,” shared Gabby, 14, a Pace girl from Volusia-Flagler.  

“I was given a really cool opportunity to meet legislators who represent my community and other Pace girls,” shared Makaila, 18, a Pace girl from Citrus.

Women who have come before us have given present day girls and young women the opportunity to make their voices heard. Women like Vicki Burke, the founder of Pace Center for Girls, who is recognized in the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame for her impactful legacy.  

At Pace, we know the strength our girls have individually, but we are stronger together. When we collaborate with one another, lift each other up and unify for a cause, we can accomplish great things.  

Pace’s work has positively impacted the lives of more than 40,000 girls and over the past decade has contributed to a more than 60% decrease in the number of girls that are referred to Florida’s juvenile justice system. Eight out of 10 girls that attend Pace graduate from high school, pursue higher education or secure employment after the program.  

The belief in our girls today will create lasting generational change, transforming our world for the better. 

Pace Day at the Capitol was made possible thanks to a community of support who believe in the great in every girl, including TECO Energy, Florida Lottery and The Mayernick Group. 



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.   


Together, We Have a Dream.

Our girls recognize they have an important role to play as young leaders — raising their voices to make a difference in their communities. And more importantly, they believe they can ignite future generations, as changemakers and inspiration for future Pace girls.

At a recent Pace Jacksonville showcase in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., girls shared how they see his dreams echoed in their generation. They performed spoken word, danced and used art as a means of self-reflection and recognition.

Hear from Pace girls:

I have a dream that one day the world will gather in unity and peace. We will join hands and decode the parables of the world, so it keeps us at ease. To make my dream happen, I will continue to spread charity and remind people that we are the dream, and we all have a purpose of being here. But we all have to help each other. There is no community without unity.” — Evie, Pace girl

I have a dream that one day I’ll be able to serve in my community and help all people no matter their walk in life, culture or economic position. And I will advocate for what’s right. Things I will do now to make sure my dream happens are graduate from high school, have a good attitude, focus on what I want, don’t let anything stop me and follow my dreams.” — Felecia, Pace girl

I have a dream that I will make my mom happy. The things that I will do to make my dream happen are finish school and go to the military. I will keep my dream alive.” — Zy’kariya, Pace girl

I have a dream that one day women will be shown respect regardless of the choices they make. That women can do everything that men can. That other women show all women love. Love is a strong thing in our day. Things that I will do now to make that dream happen are show each and every woman I meet love and care. I will protect women and do the best that I can.” — Kayla, Pace girl

Pace Jacksonville’s Performing Arts Club invites girls to engage, collaborate and raise their voices through music, art, dance and spoken word. The arts have a unique ability to capture stories while giving a voice to both individual and collective experiences.


Once a Pace Girl, Always a Pace Girl

Destiny is a former Pace Polk girl who overcame significant adversity in her journey from young woman to a substitute teacher, mother, and recent college graduate.

As a young woman Destiny described herself as “being allowed to do whatever I wanted,” raised in a household where her parents didn’t provide direction or guidance. The lack of structure and support led her to struggle in a traditional school setting.

Expelled from Sleepy Hill Middle School, Pace was the only option for school that Destiny was given. As an 11-year-old – the youngest girl in her class at Pace Polk – Destiny described the environment she found there as a sisterhood.

“I remember Miss Susan teaching me about my period and how to properly brush my teeth and what we should do if we didn’t have toothpaste, because she knew a lot of us didn’t,” Destiny recalled on her early time at Pace, pointing to how her experience helped her to build foundational skills she wasn’t getting elsewhere.

“It was rough,” Destiny shared. “Pace was full of girls just like me, so it was nice to not feel so alone.”

Destiny completed her sixth-grade year at Pace and afterward tried to go back to traditional school settings but found they didn’t fit like her experience at Pace had. She attempted different schools, dropping out a total of four times before she landed back at Pace.

Upon returning back to Pace, Destiny was able to focus and completed the rest of her middle and high school education. Reflecting back all these years later, Destiny recalls a teacher, Mrs. Laura, who provided her with a cap and gown at the Pace graduation ceremony because Destiny couldn’t afford her own. “It was like that one moment at the end of the year that will stay with me forever.” Destiny acknowledges that this simple act of kindness helped shape the person she would later become.

After finishing high school, Destiny focused on further establishing herself with her newly found skills. After 10 years, she turned back to education, graduating in 2021 from Hillsborough Community College with her Associates of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice.

“Two years ago, I was hired by DCF at their Lakeland office. It was the first real job I ever had. Of all the people in the world I thought to share my good news with, I thought of my Pace social worker first. I tried to find her on social media, because I was just so proud of what I had done. She had such an impact on me that after more than 15 years without contact I wanted to share the good news with her first.”

Today Destiny is a substitute teacher, a wife, and a mother of two who is continuing on in her higher education journey with plans to pursue a law degree through Florida State University and subsequent graduate programs to become a lawyer. She drives a minivan, noting the enduring symbol of suburban normality, and admits, “I am not anything like you would expect someone with an upbringing like mine to be, and Pace should be credited with that.”

Reflecting on how Pace has impacted her relationship with her daughter, Destiny shared: “There was a Christmas program at Pace where we were gifted things our teachers thought fit our personality. I was gifted a book ‘The daring book for girls’ and bookmarked was a chapter my teacher thought I’d enjoy. I gave that book to my first-born daughter 11 years ago, and the sticky note she used still marks my favorite chapter to this day.”

Destiny feels the driving force which allowed her to persevere and succeed is hope. This sentiment is reflected in her advice for Pace girls, or other young people experiencing challenging situations:

“Everything that you go through is temporary. And you will get there. You just have to persevere.”


Pace Alumna is Appointed to the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention State Advisory Group 

Angie is a recent high school graduate and valedictorian of Pace Center for Girls, Palm Beach. She was a former secretary of the Pace Center for Girls Leadership Council and was a member of Leadership Grow of Palm Beach County. Angie currently serves as a 2022 Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Youth Ambassador. 

We sat down with Angie as she reflected on her experience at Pace and her journey to where she is today.  

Angie at her 2022 graduation from Pace.

How did you find Pace? 

I was at a rough patch in my life to the point where public schools weren’t working for me. I was getting in a lot of trouble and causing my family significant issues. An officer was transporting me and recommended Pace to me. Initially, I did not want to go to an all-girls school.  But I decided to give Pace a try. I enrolled in Pace with a 1.7 GPA. I remember it correctly because I was failing and had gotten so off track in school. I really didn’t care about life at that point.  

What support did you receive at Pace?  

Once I was enrolled, things just started going right. I wasn’t used to a setting where people were positive and wanted to help me get better. I started feeling much more comfortable with telling my story without having to feel judged because Pace was such a safe space for me. 

I started participating in the Girls Leadership Council and progressively leveling up in Pace’s Growth and Change System. I enrolled in Pace’s Reach Program and the Life Coach Program. Everyone helped me stay on track.  

I went from being a straight ‘F’ student to a straight ‘’A student. I finished my senior year with a 3.5 GPA and was the valedictorian. In 2022, I won the DJJ (Department of Juvenile Justice) Youth Ambassador Award. And that’s when the DJJ Department in Tallahassee reached out to me to see if I’d like to submit an application to go into the Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention State Advisory Group. 

Tell us more about your experience advocating for girls. 

I was the Secretary of Pace Palm Beach’s Girls Leadership Council and a member of Leadership Grow of Palm Beach County. During that time, I would advocate for mental health support because a lot of girls unfortunately go through a lot of challenges with substance abuse and family issues.  

What changes would you like to see in the Juvenile Justice System?  

I think the main change is finding the underlying cause of girls’ challenges and not just focusing on wrong doings. I also think there can be improvement in taking care of people in the Juvenile Justice System who have mental health challenges. A lot of people do not end up getting mental health support and that’s why they can end up going back into the system. I’m thankful I was set up with Pace and a therapist.  

Tell us more about why you were chosen to be the 2022 Florida Department of Juvenile Justice Youth Ambassador. 

I think a lot of things contributed to me being chosen. Of course, me previously being involved with the DJJ system, and then my work advocating for fellow girls on Pace’s Girls Leadership Council. I also participated in Pace Day at the Capital and was able to meet and speak with a couple of Senators.  

What motivates you to raise your voice for change?  

I think what has motivated me the most is when other girls share that they look up to me.  

At Pace Day at the Capital, I was able to join other girls in sharing our stories and advocating for change in record expungement. I feel like adults can say something, but when it’s coming from a girl who’s been through the experience, others are willing to listen and see what they can do in terms of changing the system for the better.  

What future do you envision for yourself? 

I’m proud of myself and I owe a lot to Pace. I improved my academics drastically and have heard from different universities and state officials. My love is real estate – ever since I was younger and would drive by all the mansions on Palm Beach Island with my mom. I’m interested in architecture and staging houses for them to be sold. I hope to one day have my own brokerage.  

We continue to be inspired by the growth and development our girls demonstrate to make their communities stronger for all. 

Pace Day at the Capitol remains an essential component of the Pace advocacy strategy with respect to appropriations and legislative priorities.  It also provides an opportunity for Pace girls to participate in the legislative process, by testifying before committees, engaging in mock debate on specific bills, and by advocating with their individual legislators.