Story by Courtney Murray, Photos provided by PACE Center for Girls Escambia – Santa Rosa
Girl Power! Florida is booming with it. Pace Center for Girls, Inc. celebrates the power and potential of young girls. With 19 non-residential centers throughout Florida, PACE Center is creating a girl-centered culture that is continuing to grow and thrive. The center balances the importance of academics while providing social services resulting in an experience that is nationally recognized as one of the most effective programs for helping at-risk girls realize brighter and more productive futures. Kelsi Gately is a science teacher at PACE Escambia–Santa Rosa who began her journey as a volunteer and has been changed by the work she does at PACE saying, “I love my new position teaching the girls every day. They are the reason I wake up each morning with a smile on my face. When girls are asked what PACE means to them, the most common word used is home. I have grown and learned so much about myself being at PACE while helping and teaching the girls. I can’t wait to see the organization continue growing to have a positive impact on girls and young women across the country one day.” The success of the program and the girls they serve relies heavily on the support of our community, and it’s a crucial component that the girls in the PACE Center give back to others. As part of the PACE program model, 100% of the girls enrolled in the day program participate in community service projects each month with community partners like Manna Food Bank, The Favor House, The Ronald McDonald House, and Bayside Manor, to name a few. “Many times, these experiences provide the girls with unique hands-on education and exposure to a new field of study. The number of girls that have returned from a visit to The Humane Society that want to become future veterinarians, for example, proves that volunteering can benefit the volunteer every bit as much as the organization,” described Laurie Rodgers, Regional Executive Director. Laurie started at PACE over 22 years ago as a teacher and has completely fallen in love with the work that she does, “I still get a kick out of seeing my former students from those early years, now all grown up and so many with families and fulfilling careers,” she said.
PACE Center for Girls Escambia-Santa Rosa is changing lives at their custom built center on the edge of the Pensacola State College campus. Laurie Rodgers, stated, “The common thread among many of our girls is a history of trauma caused by sexual abuse, physical abuse, family instability, bullying, or poverty – and being told far too often that they are hopeless.” As a gender-responsive prevention, diversion and early intervention program serving at-risk girls, ages 11-18, in our community, the PACE Center provides year-round academic instruction along with individualized counseling, life skills training, career preparation, and goal-setting. They have also recently launched an in-house GED program. “About 7 months ago, noticing a large number of girls enrolled in our day program who were over-aged and under-credited, we decided to start an onsite GED program that allows participating girls to continue taking full advantage of all of the counseling and social services that PACE provides. As of today, 12 girls who may have otherwise dropped out of school have successfully completed their GED/high school diploma,” exclaimed Laurie. More than 2,500 girls have been transformed by PACE Escambia – Santa Rosa since their doors were opened in 1994. The incredible staff at the PACE Center work together to create a learning environment where each girl is empowered and equipped to unleash her own unique potential. The PACE Center has a way of sticking with you throughout your life.
VIP Pensacola: What is the biggest moment that has stood out in the last year?
Laurie Rodgers: This past calendar year has brought such immense and important growth to our center and the services we provide to our girls and their families. Because of the strength of our program and our community support, PACE Escambia – Santa Rosa was honored to be chosen as the 3rd of 19 centers in the state of Florida to be provided funds to open a PACE Reach Program. PACE Reach is an extension of our day program, which allows us to offer counseling and care management services to an additional 80 or more girls per year. PACE Reach goes out to the girls, wherever they are; in their homes, schools, community settings and provides them with free counseling and care management services, including tutoring and group counseling at our afterschool Enrichment Lab at the center.
When originally launched, transportation was such a huge barrier that the Krewe of Gatsby Girls took note and donated a van which immediately helped to alleviate some of the scheduling strain. Not long after, we received the ultimate ‘stand out’ gift of $108,000 from the ladies of IMPACT 100 Bay Area, which allowed us to purchase four brand new, dedicated vehicles for the REACH Program. These vehicles allow us to change the lives of even more girls per year – change that will impact them right now and will allow them the skills necessary to build the future they desire and deserve.
Laurie Rodgers: We are always planning the next big event, so watch the community events calendar in this magazine and check out our Facebook page to see what’s coming up next. Outside of coming to one of our annual fundraisers, I highly encourage and invite anyone interested in learning more about PACE to call us and set up a time to come over for a tour of the building. I’d love to introduce you to a few of our young ladies and have them show you the center through their eyes. It’s a moving experience, for sure. If you are interested in getting involved and receiving regular communication from PACE, we’ll invite you to join our Friends of PACE program, which is a free, no-obligation membership.
VIP Pensacola: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Laurie Rodgers: Oh, that’s easy – it’s knowing that we truly make a difference in the lives of girls in our community!
VIP Pensacola: What plans does PACE Escambia – Santa Rosa have for the future?
Laurie Rodgers: Would it surprise you to hear that we are always planning more growth? At the organizational level, we are preparing to open our first out-of-state center in Macon, Georgia, later this year. Here at PACE Escambia – Santa Rosa, our staff is always thinking up creative new ways to inspire and better serve our girls. We’ve just recently begun a year-round STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) Academy for the girls that offers them even more hands-on educational opportunities, fieldtrips and vocational exposure for this rapidly growing field of study.
We have monthly celebrations and seasonal parties and events and then we have some big annual events that are a lot of fun. PACE Prom is coming up in May and this year’s theme is the Roaring 20’s honoring the Krewe of Gatsby Girls, who are hosting and helping to plan prom. We are currently accepting new and used prom and party dresses, shoes and accessories for our girls – which are gratefully accepted at our front office, Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 4:00pm.
VIP Pensacola: Describe a situation working with the organization that really stood out and touched you?
Laurie Rodgers: I’d have to say that it’s so much more than just one moment or event that strikes me as especially significant – although, thankfully, there are plenty of those to choose. The most touching moments are often surprises; like a visit from a former PACE girl that I taught 20 years ago or running into a recent graduate at their job. It’s that moment where I am face-to-face with a smart, confidant young woman and I can see just how the work we do here helped her to heal and grow. At the center, we have an entire hallway dedicated to former students and their ‘success stories’ that I get to walk past every day. It’s a wonderful testament to the strength and perseverance of women of all ages – and I invite your readers to call us and arrange a tour of our facility where they can read these stories and see the center ‘in action’ firsthand.