By Grace Hirdes
Photos Courtesy Pace Center for Girls

Pace Center for Girls operates with the sole mission of providing girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training, and advocacy. They do this by providing year-round middle school and high school academics, case management, counseling, and life skills development in a gender-responsive environment.

In their Lakeland location they’ve been able to serve over 3000 girls this past year, and since their beginning in 1985, they’ve been able to serve 40,000+ in all 21 locations across Florida. The Pace Center in Lakeland also offers a Reach Program which is a counseling, therapy, and case management program for girls who don’t need the academic component of the Pace day program, but who will benefit from high-quality therapeutic services. Ellen Katzman, Executive Director at Pace Center for Girls in Polk, tells us that for her, “Pace Center for Girls changes the trajectory of the girls’ lives, one girl at a time, every day.”

One of the girls who succeeded at Pace Center is Miranda. Katzman explains that, “Childhood trauma left Miranda paralyzed with fear and doubt. She was molested at the age of 2, and at 12 witnessed the physical and emotional abuse of her mom. She was suicidal and weekly sessions with a therapist did little to help. Miranda enrolled at Pace Polk and immediately felt the weight lift from her shoulders. She has matured, she’s grown, and she’s officially caught up to her peers. In August of 2019, Miranda re-enrolled at her local High School and is on schedule to graduate with her class in 2022. She plans to pursue a double degree in nursing and psychology with hopes of working with adults who are both physically and mentally ill.”

Because of Pace, girls in the Polk County area are given a chance to overcome, heal, and have an opportunity for a better future. This past year Pace also launched their new Growth & Change System using the Pace mission, philosophy, values and guiding principles. At the core of the Growth & Change System are Pace’s Foundational Pillars, which includes the use of Gender-Responsive, Trauma-Informed, and Strength-Based approaches when interacting with girls.

Katzman explains that as girls work through the Growth & Change System, they will find that each stage has increasing opportunities and privileges as well as additional obligations. At each stage there are expectations that must be met before they can advance to the next stage. These expectations provide girls with the necessary tools and opportunities to demonstrate that they are ready to move to the next stage as determined by their care team.

The first stage, Opportunity, focuses on honoring the female spirit by respecting its distinct needs, creating safe and gender-responsive environments, and celebrating the female experience.

Stage two, Responsibility, helps create an environment that fosters long-term growth and development and teaches the wisdom of time and that patience can be just as powerful as immediate action, and that each has its place.

The third stage, Dignity, shows that all actions and decisions must be guided by the highest ethical principles, respecting the uniqueness of all involved and honoring each other’s differences. It also embraces growth and change. Katzman states that, “We believe that everyone is capable of remarkable growth, and only by encouraging change can individuals, organizations, and society reach their full potential.”

Stage four, Serenity, identifies strengths in the girls, their families, the staff, and the supporters. “Using these strengths as our foundation, we build strong, confident, and productive community participants,” states Katzman. This stage also shows that exhibiting courage is essential to making a difference as it enables them to speak for those who cannot, take risks to do what is right, deliver just and fair consequences, and be accountable for all actions.

The last stage, Grace, seeks excellence in all they do by holding true to their mission, while consistently meeting high standards of performance, reflecting critically upon their accomplishments, seeking innovative solutions, and believing all things are possible.

Katzman tells us that, “In this stage, they are also able to create effective partnerships and long-term relationships by listening to our staff, our girls and their families, and our communities, incorporating each person’s input and involving them in our decision-making process.”

This is just one example of how Pace creates an environment that allows girls and their families to grow and change together and ultimately do just as Katzman pointed out, “Change the trajectory of their lives.”

If you are interested in helping out this amazing organization and making an impact on your community, there are several ways you can get involved. First, help out for the holidays. Each year, Pace center creates an Angel Tree where the girls can hang their wish list. Others can then step up and help their wish come true. Second, donate supplies. Because of COVID, Pace is in need of PPE such as hand sanitizer and masks to keep their girls healthy. They are also in need of school supplies and incentives such as gift cards to help provide the girls with the necessary equipment and supplies they need to stay motivated and on the right track.

If you feel compelled to be a part of their organization and would like more information on their Angel Tree or other needed donations, please contact Julie Roggeman, Community Engagement Coordinator, at 863-688-5596.