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PACE PROVIDES A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR YOUNG GIRLS IN IMMOKALEE, FLORIDA

The PACE Center for Girls in Immokalee, Florida, serves 67 girls each year. This center provides these young women with an opportunity to complete their education, offering classes that go toward their high school credits. PACE Center for Girls originally opened in Jacksonville, Florida, in 1985. Now, there are a total of 19 PACE centers all over Florida, providing girls and young women who have risk factors in their life with the opportunity for a brighter future. 


The center has intimate classroom sizes, with technology available for the girls to use during class time and to complete their assignments, a cafeteria and a gymnasium. PACE in Immokalee has a team of 23 staff, consisting of master’s level counselors and a full academic teaching staff for the girls. The classes taught at PACE include Reading, Math, Science, Social Studies, English and Spirited Girls, a class that was created just for PACE.

The PACE center in Immokalee strives to provide a safe and loving environment for these girls to learn in and encourages them for a brighter future. Since opening in 1998, this center has served more than 1,200 girls in Immokalee.


Executive director, Marianne Kearns, says she believes in providing a nurturing environment to the girls and educating them on topics about women that they typically would not learn in a regular school environment. 


“What we know, is that if we can educate girls and communicate to them their value, help them see their self-worth when they start experiencing accomplishments, then they put themselves on a better track for their future,” Kearns said.


Immokalee is home to a vast agricultural farming environment, notorious for employing undocumented immigrants who work in harsh conditions. 44.8% of Immokalee’s residents live below the poverty line, compared to the state national average of 14%. PACE emphasizes the importance of an education, as well as maintaining mental and emotional health for these young women who have experienced sexual and physical abuse, poverty and so much more. 


“My favorite thing is that they help girls become better,” Irma, a 12th grade student at PACE in Immokalee, said. “They come here like a mess, and they can be having so many problems, but at the end of the day, they are more grounded. They know who they are, they know how to get through it, whatever it is, and they always have support here academically and emotionally.”


According to Kearns, all of the girls who attend PACE have three or more risk factors in their life. She says she feels that giving the opportunity to these girls to accomplish their goals and to reach their full potential to lead a successful life is a big part of the mission of PACE.  


“My motivation is my family,” Irma said. “I will be the first to graduate high school, so that makes me want to do it. I feel pressured, but I also like it.”


Kearns expresses her desire and motivation to help the girls at PACE grow into themselves and know that they can do anything they put their mind to, regardless of the situation they have fallen into. 


“I would want to say to all the girls who have been through PACE center, are currently in the PACE center, or those who may not know about us but do need us, that your life is rich and valuable, and that regardless of any circumstance, you have a future that is worthy.”