Empowering Girls and Young Women

March 01, 2023

One thriving Pace girl is 16-year-old Sandra. The high school junior has been attending Pace Center for Girls of Polk County for nearly a year and has found refuge at the Center. “Pace has helped me a lot, just learning how to self-advocate and finding my voice,” she said. “I struggled a lot with my self-worth before I came here, and I can honestly say it’s improved and helped me achieve a lot of my goals.”

The women Sandra most admires and who have supported her are her mother and her Pace Spirited Girls teacher, Michelle Taylor. “She looks after me a lot and notices when I’m having a bad day,” said Sandra. Asked what she liked about attending Pace, she noted, “I love the environment, the people, it’s open, everyone’s warm. No one’s shut off. You don’t feel out of place. You feel like you belong here.”

Once a year, Pace Polk sends two girls to Tallahassee for Pace Day at the Capitol. Sandra earned the coveted spot, an incentive for excelling socially and academically, and will be attending this year, where she’ll have the opportunity to meet legislators and other Pace girls from across the state.

Executive Director Ellen Katzman described Sandra as sweet, articulate, compassionate, and a model student. “Every girl that comes here comes with challenges. We call them ‘at-risk factors.’ They are obstacles in the young women’s lives, and they have to overcome them. [Sandra] is strong – she’s resilient, and in overcoming those, she’s learned to have her own voice, to advocate for herself,” Katzman raved. “When she leaves here, I have all the confidence in the world that this child is going to be an incredible young woman. She’s going to make her own path, her own future.”

The executive director noted that she most admired Sandra's inner strength and adoption of self-advocacy, something Pace empowers all girls to do. “When there’s someone like Sandra who grasps it so easily and well – it was there all time, we just helped bring it out.”

Sandra, who spoke with the poise and self-assuredness of a young woman destined for success, beamed from within. In the future, she hopes to shine that light on others as a substance abuse counselor, helping people with addictions better their lives.