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The 863 Magazine

Non-Profit Spotlight PACE Center for Girls

Helping at-risk girls in Polk County change their stories.

I

n the heart of downtown Lakeland there is a hidden gem of which not many people are aware. This gem is an organization devoted to ensuring that at-risk girls are given a fair chance at life. The staff has devoted their lives to providing girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy. This organization, Pace Center for Girls, values all girls and young women, believing each one deserves an opportunity to find her voice, achieve her potential and celebrate a life defined by responsibility, dignity, serenity and grace.  The mission of PACE is to take in the girls that society deems at-risk and provide them with a chance to change their stories. Pace works alongside these girls to meet them where they are in life socially, emotionally, and academically. Pace is a strength based, gender responsive and trauma informed program. As such, PACE is more focused on identifying strengths in the girls and using these as the foundation to build strong, confident and productive future members of the world. But don’t take it from us… Hear it in the words of one of our success stories: “How can you be so young and hate yourself so much? When do you decide to start doing drugs and drinking alcohol at such a young age? When is the exact moment that you realize you feel that you are no longer worth living? I’m not sure when I made these decisions, but

I did. I was failing school, sneaking around doing drugs and alcohol, and I tried so hard to cover the cuts on my arm. After a while, I stopped trying. I told myself I was meant to be this way. The saddest part of my story was that I was happy to be in the dark. I didn’t have to meet anyone’s expectations, and I felt that death would be so much easier if everyone knew my life was a waste. Between November of 2012 and March of 2013, I really lost myself. I overdosed twice and almost lost my life. The last overdose, I’m not sure what changed, but that day, something came through to me. I wasn’t able to return to high school after I left the hospital. Thankfully, though, I became aware of Pace Center for Girls. It was there that I met the women and men who would change my life forever. I was very open about how badly I wanted to change and that I was willing to do anything. I had these great people who supported me all the way through. They never doubted me, and never gave up on me. PACE was not only involved with me, but they also helped my family and me to build our relationship back to where it once was. The hardest part about becoming this new person was the guilt that seemed to slam into me. For a long time, I had shut everything off and had no remorse; but, as this new girl, I had to open up and let my emotions out in order to help others understand me. It was the most physical and mental pain I’ve ever experienced.

Slowly but surely, I was able to forgive myself. That was the most important step. I started to love myself again, and I was able to let my family love me, too. As of 2015, I have been clean for two years. Now, I am 18, and I am a full time student at Lakeland Senior High School. I attend Polk State College for dual enrollment, and I also take online classes. To add more to the list, I am also doing online training to become a shift leader for my job at Dunkin Donuts. The girl from two years ago no longer exists. There isn’t a trace of her remaining. The only thing that remains is the courage and determination I had to change my life around. My family, my church, and, of course, PACE are my biggest supporters. I am honored to share with the world what they have helped me conquer. Once a Pace girl ALWAYS a PACE girl. “ Since writing her story, this young lady has graduated from high school and is attending college. This is just one of the many success stories to come out of PACE Center for Girls, Polk. To learn more about the program, visit Pacecenter.org/locations/polk, call executive director Ellen Katzman, or program director Margaret Connelly at 863-688-5596.

The 863 Magazine - July & August 2017  

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