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Denim Day: Wearing Jeans with a Purpose

Pace joins communities across the country in recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).  

On Denim Day, April 27, 2022, the longest running sexual violence prevention and education campaign in history, McKenzie Marsch, Special Projects Manager at Pace Palm Beach, participated in a panel discussion hosted by Palm Beach County Victim Services.  

Denim Day asks community members, elected officials, and businesses to wear denim to combat victim blaming and educate others about sexual violence. McKenzie participated in the panel discussion on behalf of Palm Beach County’s Girls Coordinating Council.

“Representing the Girls Coordinating Council of Palm Beach County, I had the opportunity to share why we should decrease discomfort related to discussing sexual assault and consent and the importance of leading with the ‘start by believing’ mindset,” shared McKenzie.  

Since 2017, Girls Coordinating Councils (GCC) have been formed, like the one in Palm Beach, in various counties throughout Florida and Georgia. The Girls Coordinating Council is a community collaborative focusing on reforming and strengthening the system of care for girls and young women.  

Change begins when girls get the help they need to further their education, strengthen their relationships, interpersonal skills, and learn healthy coping mechanisms that help them overcome past trauma and look toward the future.


Advancing Safe Driving Skills and Awareness with State Farm

In recognition of April’s Distracted Driving Awareness Month, Pace Center for Girls partnered with State Farm Insurance to advance girls’ understanding of distracted driving and safe driving skills.

Pace is committed to addressing topics that improve girls’ skills and ability to make healthy decisions and reduce harmful habits to their health, wellness, and safety.  When we focus on supporting girls, they gain the power to achieve success in all areas of their lives, leading to positive outcomes for themselves, their families and communities.

Texting, talking on the phone, eating, drinking, and fiddling with music – all common activities of teenagers – can have catastrophic results when driving. In 2020, there were more than 48,000 driving crashes in Florida – 75 percent of which were caused by the driver being inattentive behind the wheel.

At Pace, our holistic approach provides girls the counseling, academic courses and life-skill training they need to make safe and healthy decisions,” said Mary Marx, president and CEO of Pace Center for Girls. “Distracted driving is a public health threat, so we are thankful to State Farm for investing in Pace and partnering with us to develop this curriculum to teach our girls passenger and driver safety skills.”

Pace Jacksonville teamed up with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and local volunteers to celebrate Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

From April 19 through 22, Pace hosted a week-long initiative across its 21 Florida locations where girls completed lessons, crafted art projects and heard from guest speakers including representatives from State Farm, and Cara Filler, America’s leading speaker on traffic safety and peer pressure. The service-learning opportunity was made possible thanks to a $85,000 statewide grant from State Farm Insurance.

Kiya was one of 50 girls who participated in the safety clinic at Pace Pinellas and shared, “Do not answer because it doesn’t matter if you get a text from your mom, your boyfriend or anyone. If you are driving and you answer that text, any second something could go wrong.”

Working with the Pace girls has been a memorable and rewarding experience,” said Jose Soto, State Farm Corporate Responsibility Analyst. “The girls have an incredible abundance of talent and creativity, and our agents enjoyed the opportunity to teach them invaluable lessons about safe driving that will build a safer, stronger and better-educated community.”

 Pace Volusia-Flagler hosted a Transportation Safety Fair to help build a safer, stronger, and better-educated community.  

The week-long programming concluded with an awareness campaign art competition. Like many of Pace’s programs, art was intentionally woven into curriculum as a powerful tool of expression. From the competition, three winners will be selected, and the statewide winning art piece will be displayed at the Florida State Capitol.


Pace Provides Teen Girls Safe Spaces to Express Themselves through Art

All girls, regardless of their story, deserve safe and supportive spaces to heal that help them to become strong, compassionate, and successful women. Through creative outlets, girls can find their inner voice, examine values and morals, and look towards the future.  

During National Poetry Month, Pace girls are teaming up with community partners for a series of art and poetry workshops.  

Pace Miami partnered with O, Miami Poetry Festival and Bakehouse Art Complex to teach girls the fundamental principles of art-making and poetry writing as vehicles for self-expression. The eight-week program, led by writer Arsimmer McCoy and visual artist Patricia Monclus, culminated with a poetry reading celebration and publication of a limited-edition book of the girls’ work. 

Photo Credit: Diana Espin 

“The girls are enjoying all the [art/poetry] sessions,” said Britney, Spirited Girls Teacher at Pace Miami. “The educators are doing a magnificent job with instructions and engagement.  Pace Miami is very grateful to have this infused art opportunity within the Spirited Girls curriculum.” 

Pace’s Spirited Girls class focuses on the developmental needs of girls, life and vocational skills, diversity, spirituality, and empowerment. In the class, girls can express themselves in a context of gentle guidance that supports their self-discovery and growth.   

We sat down with Annah from Pace Lee, who wrote her first poem about the unique strengths of a woman in the Spirited Girls class. Annah shared: “Writing is important because I am able to express myself and get more creative with what I do. In the Spirited Girls! class, we learned about the struggles women went through, and the class helped me express myself. Women have not been treated with the same respect and equality as men, and what I want people to take away from my poem is that women are strong and able to get through anything.”  

Annah was the first middle school girl at Pace Lee to accomplish the Grace stage, the highest level of Pace’s Growth & Change Recognition Program. Girls move through the recognition program as they complete milestones that align with Pace’s nine guiding principles.  

Annah’s counselor Ms. Leslie reflected on Annah’s growth and development thus far at Pace: “Annah has made strong relationships with positive peers. She has straight A’s and a 100% attendance rate. But she doesn’t give herself enough credit. She’s an absolute rock star.”  

In all its various forms, art is a powerful tool for expression for girls like Annah and is weaved throughout the fabric of Pace’s programs.  


Pace Alumna Alivia Reflects: “I am the most resilient person I know”

At Pace, we believe communities are stronger when girls and women have the opportunity to thrive. We sat down with one Pace alumna Alivia from Macon, GA who reflected on her experience with Pace and her journey to where she is today.

How did you find Pace?

My family and I had been facing some challenges — a lot of it came from financial struggles.

My family was dealing with substance abuse and my nieces and nephew were dropping out of school.

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.

After the eviction, we moved into my grandparents’ house. I had to adjust and refigure out everything.  When we were first there, there were 10 people in a house meant for four. After a long battle of caring for my grandmother, she passed away, another big loss for my family. I knew I couldn’t do this on my own, but I also didn’t feel I had the support I needed from my family at that time.

A mentor of mine recommended that I reach out to Pace and talk to someone.

What did you learn at Pace?

[At Pace] I learned the value of self-care. I learned my worth and how to give myself the credit I deserve. My favorite quote that my counselor Rebecca told me was: “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” She helped me reframe my circumstances and find the positive in every situation. She reinforced my determination to never give up. I learned to prioritize myself and my mental health on the path to self discovery. I am the most resilient person I know and because of Pace, I can recognize that.

Where are you now?

I’m a freshman at Fort Valley State in the cooperative developmental energy program, which is a dual-degree program where I am pursuing my bachelor’s in math and a master’s in engineering. I’ve always been a math and science person, I’ve always been good with my hands, and I love building things.

I also have a couple of businesses. I’m learning to do acrylic nails, and I’ve done some graphic design. I designed the flyers for the student government association executive board campaign, which helped the campaign win the election.

In February, you recently testified at a budget committee meeting at the Georgia State Legislature to help Pace increase funding for its programs in the state. How was that experience?

When I arrived at the legislature meeting, it set in that this was a big deal. However, when I started to testify, my nerves settled. It was interesting to see people care about my story so much. At times, I don’t realize how much I’ve gone through, because I don’t want it to define me, but my story is important. I hope it can inspire others to recognize the power of their own story.

As we reflect during Women’s History Month, is there a woman who has supported you to get to where you are today?

I would say my mentor Ms. Geneva West, who is the Founder of Real I.M.P.A.C.T Center, Inc. — an all-girls STEM organization. After I completed that program, I decided to give back. I taught coding classes, instructed curriculum involving STEM, and even coached a robotics team. Ms. West has taken me under her wing and exposed me to so many events and speaking opportunities. She’s been a really positive person in my life — even helping me through the college application process. She’s amazing.

Another person that comes to mind is my mom. I love my mom. We’ve had our ups and downs, but I’ve seen how her confidence has developed and how she’s trying every day to be better. I admire her for that. Despite many challenges we have faced, I am overly thankful to my parents for raising me to become the person I am today. My love for my family is strong, and I pray every day we grow into the best version of ourselves.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Honestly, I’d probably say, stop being so hard on yourself. You’re doing great. I’m celebrating my strengths, and I’ve learned that vulnerability is one of them. Give yourself the credit you deserve and know that you can keep pushing. Know that whatever you’re going through, you can make it through.

In 2019, Pace expanded into Georgia, offering services to help girls learn healthy coping skills, overcome past trauma and look toward the future. Teen girls who participate in the program improve their skills and ability to make safe, healthy decisions that enable them to be strong, compassionate and successful women. Learn more about the services Pace offers in Georgia.


Providing Healing, Promoting Hope

Essential Workers Celebrated During Women’s History Month

As Pace Continues to Provide Healing and Promote Hope

Women’s History Month serves as a time to commemorate and celebrate the contributions and accomplishments of women. The 2022 theme — providing healing and promoting hope — is a tribute to the tireless efforts of frontline workers during the pandemic and the recognition of the numerous ways women of all backgrounds have provided both healing and hope throughout the pandemic and history.

Educators, counselors and team members at Pace have been on the frontlines for our girls every day as they provide healing and hope for each other, our girls and the communities we serve.

One person at Pace leading this charge is Sultania Houppert, more widely known as Ms. Tania, a math teacher from Pace Polk.

“My calling was always to inspire,” said Ms. Tania. “[Working at Pace] is a calling and something acquired. In order to acquire that wanting to heal and wanting to help, you need to have that support and foundation. We all want to have those opportunities to be heard, and that was a big calling for me. These girls want to be heard and cared for.”

Reflecting on the women who have helped Ms. Tania get where she is today, she noted how her own mother inspired her to give back to the community and make a difference.

“The first and foremost [example of inspiration and care] has been my mother. She has been my nurturer, she has been my rock, and she has been someone who made me feel like I had a voice, which is something that I hope to be able to pass on to all the Pace girls I work with. It’s really awe-inspiring when you come into a classroom, and you see a smile. It’s a gift to know girls feel comfortable in your space and comfortable to learn.”

In addition to teaching math, Ms. Tania serves as an ally and advocate for all the girls and young women at Pace. She noted how Pace’s holistic approach to learning and personalized support through counseling are like no other:

“I’ve never worked at a place [that is able to provide] every resource that a girl is going to need to pursue what she needs. We have to act accordingly to what girls need at that moment. At Pace, we start with the foundation of respecting the girls — and their space, culture, traumatic experiences — which helps them to feel heard. Then, we are able to reinforce that they are heard and supported not just academically but also personally.”

Every day, teachers like Ms. Tania, counselors, administrators, volunteers and community partners listen to our girls, advocate for their physical and mental health, help them thrive and grow, and encourage them to look toward the future. Because of their dedication, countless teen girls and young women have the opportunity to achieve their own success, leading to positive outcomes for themselves, their families and communities. This Women’s History Month and every month, please join us in celebrating Ms. Tania and all the people like her for their continued commitment to create strong girls and strong communities.

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