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Aug
02

Mental Health Matters: Pace Center for Girls, Collier at Immokalee Helps Girls Look Towards the Future

Published in Old Naples News Aug/Sept/Oct 2022 Edition

Before coming to Pace Center for Girls, Collier at Immokalee, Kimberlee began to see her world unravel — and with it, her mental health. She slowly started opening up to her therapist, Ms. Jama, and together they created a strong partnership and plan grounded in trust and care.

“The mental health needs in Immokalee are significant. The stigma is real everywhere, but especially in this community. For many girls, coming to Pace is one of their first opportunities to learn about mental health and to see what self-care is,” shared Jama Thurman, Social Services Manager at Pace Collier.

Without support, many girls, like Kimberlee, can struggle to find the best path forward and consequently develop harmful coping mechanisms that hinder their journey to a brighter future.

“People should give therapy a chance. Therapy has helped me find my confidence and motivation in life,” shared Kimberlee. “I don’t talk to many people about my personal life, but I talk to Ms. Jama and she helped me.”

At Pace, we believe all girls, regardless of their story, deserve safe and supportive spaces to heal that help them to become strong, compassionate and successful women. Our exceptional team of counselors, therapists and educators take into consideration each girl’s unique strengths, experiences as young women, and history with trauma when creating their individualized plans of care.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health challenges were the leading cause of disability and challenging life outcomes in young people, with the Surgeon General Reporting in 2021 that up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the US have a reported mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder.

Complex mental health challenges must be met with a multifaceted approach to support, which is why Pace’s model is designed to meet girls where they are both physically and developmentally.

“Part of the work we do here at Pace is to help girls find their voice. This is a huge part of any girl’s mental health journey,” shared Vitina Monacello, Therapist at Pace Collier. “For our girls, it’s really owning and embracing their stories in full context. It’s not disowning the difficult emotions or the hard things that’ve happened to them, or the struggles they’ve had. It’s finding their voice in all of that and making sense of their story for themselves so they can move forward.”

Beyond the pandemic and the added stressors this brought on, the adolescent and teenage stage is one of great transformation, both physiologically and psychologically. Navigating this crucial stage of development can be difficult and requires guidance, support, empathy, and safety.

“I found something at Pace that you can’t find at other schools. I found a family that cared about me and my future, and I believed I could do whatever I set out to do. I found an extension to the family I already had that was uplifting and a positive driving force in my change for the better. Like countless girls before me, I found myself as well,” shared Prescilla, a Pace alum.

Sometimes just asking a girl how she is doing can be a crucial step to prevention or to beginning a healing journey. If you know a girl who could benefit from Pace’s programs, please visit here.

Aug
01

Pace’s Reach Program Is Tackling The Youth Mental Health Crisis By Closing The Gap To Care

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health challenges were the leading cause of challenging life outcomes in young people, with the Surgeon General Reporting in 2021 that up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the US have a reported mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder.   

Exacerbated by issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, inequality, and economic instability, this crisis is being driven in part by young people’s lack of access to mental health services. Unfortunately, this disparity is even larger for BIPOC communities.  

The Pace Reach Program is working to help bridge the gap to care by bringing mental health support to girls ages 11-17 at home, school, through their communities, and online.  

To illustrate the impact of the Reach Program, we spoke with Kamiah Moore, a junior at Alfred Rush Academy in Florence, SC where she spends two days a week in the Pace Reach Program.  

“Mental health is one of the most important things in the world,” said Kamiah, “without your mental health being stable, nothing else in your life is going to be stable.”  

Kamiah’s wise words reflect the growth she has experienced during her time within the Reach program. In previous school settings, Kamiah struggled with behavioral issues. It wasn’t until Pace that she found her footing and reclaimed her mental health.  

“You feel like you have voices behind your voice when you’re in the Pace girls group,” Kamiah says, while reflecting on the relationships she’s developed. “When you’re here, you build a family. It’s a comfortable space where you can talk to people.”  

Addressing the youth mental health crisis requires a multi-faceted approach that meets youth on their terms. In Kamiah’s case, the gender-responsive and trauma-informed approach used by the Reach program speaks to her unique needs, especially when compared to her previous school experiences. 

“When I first got to alternative school, I was the only girl in my high school section, so I was just with boys all day,” she said. “After being put in the Pace girls’ group, it helped me with my communication skills and my mental health a lot. When I started coming to the girls’ group, I started paying attention, talking, and getting everything off my chest. It started helping how I felt about myself and the way I wanted to carry myself.” 

Kamiah isn’t the only one proud of her growth in the Reach program. Her counselor, Kristen Harrell has been working with Kamiah every step of the way and is no stranger to the challenges Kamiah has faced.   

“I call Kamiah my Beyonce because she is a star,” said Kristen. “I’ve been able to connect so well with her and the other girls because I was once in their shoes. Growing up in Florence I got written up and kicked out of school. We didn’t have something like the Pace program and the safe space it provides.”  

Whether they’re quoting TikTok memes, listening to Kamiah’s favorite artist Billie Eilish, or getting serious about Kamiah’s needs, the pair are a great example of the power that individualized support can have on a girls’ life.  

For millions of girls like Kamiah, cost, distance, and lack of awareness act as insurmountable barriers to accessing the most essential of resources: a safe, judgment-free space. As Pace continues to expand our Reach programming, we do so with the mission of connecting girls with the resources they need to realize their full potential, regardless of who they are, or where they live.  

Jul
12

Pace Macon Girls Express Themselves Through Art

Pace believes that all girls, regardless of their story, deserve safe and supportive spaces to heal and develop into strong, compassionate, and successful women. We incorporate self-reflection and mindfulness into curriculum and encourage creativity as a means of self-expression.   

In all its various forms, art is a powerful tool for expression. We spoke with Pace Macon girls and Rebecca Richard, Reach Program Manager at Pace Macon, about their recent participation in an art therapy session at Booker T. Washington Center in Georgia.  

Eric Gordan, an art educator from Taylor County High School, led the session and shared with girls that they were free to put on their canvases whatever spoke to them as they painted self-portraits.  

“Activities such as these create a culture of camaraderie, which is very important because often girls with trauma build a defensive wall where they keep to themselves,” shared Rebecca. “This creative therapy technique allows girls to be vulnerable.”  

The Pace Reach Program is designed to be community based and to meet girls where they’re at: in their schools, in their homes and in their communities. Our goal is to ensure that things like transportation and finances don’t become a barrier to providing the behavioral health services that girls need. 

“Only a few of these girls knew each other before this activity,” noted Rebecca. “When these girls go back to school in August, they will be able to recognize and have had a positive experience with at least one more person in their community.” 

With support from an MVP: Macon Violence Prevention grant, Pace will continue to expand its Reach Programming in Georgia by adding an additional Therapist. Girls who participate in the Pace Reach Program improve their skills and ability to make healthy decisions and reduce harmful habits to their health, wellness and safety. Pace’s holistic approach cares for their physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and relational development needs. Through these services, girls learn how to manage stress and adversities, improve personal relationships, learn new communication skills and improve school performance.   

Jun
17

Safe Spaces: Culture. Arts. Reflection.  

At Pace Center for Girls, all girls have the opportunity to engage in exploration, self-discovery, creativity and choice. Being embraced by a trusted community is an empowering moment in a girl’s life and is an important part of the Pace journey for many girls. 

When Pace girls begin to realize their inherent power, they discover a path to take charge of their own stories and futures. 

“I lift my voice every day,” shared Thomari, a Pace Polk girl. “Pace has given me that power. I don’t have to hold everything in or hold grudges, I can be the person that I am.”

We are striving toward a world where all girls can live freely in their power because we know this has not always been the case.

At a recent Jacksonville showcase in celebration of Juneteenth, Pace girls lifted their voices and used art as a means of self-reflection and recognition of the date that marked the end of slavery in 1865, two years after the issuing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

“Each girl who presented at the Juneteenth showcase exhibited courage and focused on their strengths,” shared Chantell Miles, Executive Director of Pace Jacksonville.

Tay, a Pace Jacksonville girl, reflected on her power with a poem: “You held your head up high and refused to let it fall. You woke up each day and gave it your all. Because deep down in your heart, you knew you wouldn’t fall. I hope you keep fighting because life will get better. You always find sunshine despite the rain. Keep your head up and remember who you are. Always remember, Tay, you are the star.”

Aubrey reflected on her experience learning about Juneteenth and presented a flag that illustrates a Rosa Parks quote: “I believe we are here on the planet Earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for all people to enjoy freedom.” 

In addition, Aubrey shared a traditional textile weaving she created in Spirited Girls, a unique class at Pace that offers girls gentle guidance and supports girls’ self-discovery and growth.  

“In Spirited Girls, we discussed the meaning of each color with the understanding that every aspect of the color and design is attended to communicate. Each of the colors holds its own meaning. The colors are red, purple, green, gold, black, blue and white. The colors are symbolic with ancestors and spiritual awareness,” shared Aubrey. 

To close out the talent portion of the showcase, Synayah sang ‘Freedom’ by Beyonce and noted, “Juneteenth means to me that everyone has an opportunity to be themselves and express themselves without any negativity.”  

Pace’s commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion empowers every girl to find and use their voice to create a positive impact in their community and the world. 

May
26

Creating a Culture of Health and Well-Being

Pace Center for Girls is a proud recipient of the Healthiest Companies Platinum Award presented by the First Coast Worksite Wellness Council. The award recognizes Pace’s dedication to creating a culture of health and well-being.  

“Our staff cannot care for our girls unless we care for them first,” shared Yessica Cancel, Chief Operating Officer at Pace. “Our focus on health and wellness represents an investment in our staff that goes beyond their time at work.”  

Pace’s leadership team is committed to investing in resources that support team members holistically. In addition to PTO benefits, team members receive a week off for wellness annually. This year an added benefit at no cost to team members is Modern Health, a mental well-being platform offering therapy, coaching, and self-guided courses all in one app. 

“Pace does an amazing job of assisting in well-being so we can fill our cups,” shared Lena Neal, Academic Manager at Pace Manatee. “We need to be our best selves for our girls and to do that we need to care for ourselves.” 

Company-wide actions and care, described as Pace Fit Wellness Challenges and Incentives, are designed to reset, refresh, and reinforce team members’ minds and spirits. To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month, we asked team members what mental health means to them. 

“I practice mental health and well-being by reading and spending time with my favorite people. I walk every day; it helps me clear my head and unwind,” shared Barbra Burt, Contracts Analyst at Pace.  

Looking for a few easy habits to help build your mental strength and resilience? Find a series of personalized meditation tools developed and narrated by Naomi Osaka, made available for free by our friends at Modern Health. 

Pace Jacksonville Team Members at Open House Event. Photo: Tammi McGriff