‘Help is always on the way:’ Florida nonprofit gets results for teen girls struggling with trauma

Pace Center for Girls started in 1985, has served more than 40,000 girls since it began

CENTRAL FLORIDA – A Central Florida nonprofit is getting results for girls and young women dealing with trauma, through education, counseling, training, and advocacy.

Pace Center for Girls started in 1985 and has served more than 40,000 girls since it began.

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Rosene Johnson, the executive director of Pace Center for Girls Orange, tells News 6 the center uses an evidence-based approach to education and counseling, specific to how girls ages 11-18 learn.

“Trauma can be dealing with the loss of a parent, dealing with the loss of a friend, poor grades in school, bullying, navigating issues of mental health, but also the way that we adapt to the information given to us. So the whole point of that was to give girls a specific place where they can get directive counseling based on their learning system,” Johnson said.

Angel Robinson, 16, started at Pace two years ago, when her dad first suggested the program to improve her grades. She told News 6′s Julie Broughton, she was hesitant at first.

“I was like ‘oh no’ because it’s all girls. There are no boys here. Since like we’ve been here this long, everything is actually great. The people, the staff, everything is actually great,” Angel said. “Because when I first came, it was like I’m not doing anything. I’m not getting anywhere. I’m not gonna do this or that. But like once you start getting people coming in helping you, like hey, everything is going to be OK. So there’s no need to worry because you got people who are gonna have your back.”

Now, not only is she thriving academically, she serves on the girl’s leadership council.

“I actually get to show them how this works and the different classes they’re going to have. And I get to like see their insight because when they have someone to help them they’re like thank you,” she said.

While Johnson says stories like Angel’s are not uncommon at Pace, watching each young lady evolve is emotional.

“Hearing Angel say her grades are up, not only does she feel more confident about herself, but now she’s stepped into a leadership role helping other girls. The work we do is intergenerational. The work we do is so pivotal. And to think she is only 16 years old. Imagine where she will be five, 10 years from now, with the skills that she learned here,” Johnson said. “When a girl is educated or when a female is educated, the likelihood of her family down the line, her becoming that matriarch, not only will their income increase over generations, so now you have created a brand new legacy in the life of this girl that will extend far beyond her years. And that legacy connects to every part of the community.”

Pace works in partnership with Orange County Public Schools and follows the same curriculum but with small classes. Students meet weekly with their counselor.

“How can we help that young lady feel safe when she’s probably never felt safe before? Once we build safety, then that young lady has the tools to now slowly begin changing their behavior,” Johnson said.

And as the girls modify their behavior, they’re rewarded by moving into different stages.

“With the highest stage being grace because that’s what we all need. And once they hit grace, that is a sign that the young lady may now be ready to reenter the school system and now take on the other challenges of life with Pace still in her corner to support,” Johnson said.

As for Robinson, she loves animals and plans to become a veterinarian. And has this advice for other girls who may need a change.

“Just making a change in my life to where there’s nothing that you can’t overcome. Because you can overcome anything if you put your mind to it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help because help is always on the way,” Robinson said.

Johnson said Pace always needs the “time, talent, and treasure” of community members who’d like to donate or volunteer. To learn more about opportunities with Pace Center for Girls, visit them online here.

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About the Author:

Julie Broughton's career in Central Florida has spanned more than 14 years, starting with News 6 as a meteorologist and now anchoring newscasts.