PACE Center for Girls is a pioneering organization that from its inception forged new paths and standards for serving girls and young women. In 1983, under the leadership of Vicki Burke and with the help of many community supporters, the PACE Center for Girls, Inc. was incorporated as a Florida nonprofit dedicated to making changes for girls in the juvenile justice system. PACE Center for Girls was envisioned as an alternative to institutionalization or incarceration for girls at risk of dropping out of school, teen pregnancy and/or experiencing involvement in the justice system. Because research and intervention models specific to girls in juvenile justice were non-existent in 1983, PACE built a network of partners that included juvenile judges, educators, community leaders and elected officials, women’s groups, law enforcement, philanthropy and the business community to create the model.
In 1985, PACE Center for Girls opened its doors in downtown Jacksonville, serving 10 girls referred by the Duval County juvenile courts. The early PACE model focused on remedial education, GED, and life skills training. The hallmark of PACE from its inception was the recognition that girls were relationship oriented and thus the staff to student ratio was 1:10. Likewise, the founders knew that girls needed a space that was girl-only and that a three-year follow-up was critical to ensure continuity of support. Through its work, PACE began to be recognized by others in the field as the leader in providing services and advocacy for girls. Based on this success, PACE quickly expanded. From 1985 to 1994 PACE opened six PACE Centers across the state and from 1996 through 2001 eleven additional PACE Centers were opened.
As it expanded, PACE adopted tenets that stressed that programs should treat girls in a holistic way and not compartmentalize the lives of girls. To operationalize emerging research, PACE utilized the publication released from the Baltimore Female Intervention Team that delineated the developmental domains of girls. This publication was used as the foundation for ensuring that specific attention was being paid to all of the developmental domains of girls: intellectual, physical, emotional, family and relationships, sexual and spiritual. The developmental domains at PACE are incorporated in both the academic and social service interventions by teachers and counselors to impact protective factors and address risk factors associated with girls’ delinquency.
PACE’s holistic approach recognizes that oftentimes academic problems, for example, may stem from emotional issues and/or relationship problems and therefore require interventions beyond academic support alone. The interventions are trauma-informed, recognizing that if a girl has experienced victimization/trauma, that all of her developmental domains are affected. In sum, PACE views girls holistically and addresses each girl individually by employing multiple strategies. Twenty-eight years after its founding, PACE is the only statewide gender-responsive prevention and early intervention organization in the nation focused on girls and young women. Today PACE has 18 Centers throughout Florida with plans to expand beyond the state by 20/20.