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PACE success stories inspire donors

Published June 18, 2006

NEW PORT RICHEY - There was no required donation for the charity breakfast.

Organizers wanted guests to give to the Pasco PACE Center for Girls if they were "moved."

They were.

Supporters at the third "Friends of PACE Breakfast" at Spartan Manor gave about $17,000 after they listened to two PACE students tell their stories.

Seventeen-year-old Alissa took pills, drank alcohol and skipped her high school classes, which she was failing, before she enrolled in the PACE program.

"They have counselors when you need someone to talk to and even when you don't," Alissa said. "I'm thankful for PACE. Without it, I don't know where I'd be."

PACE, which stands for Practical Academic and Cultural Education, is for girls ages 12 to 18 who are deemed truant, ungovernable, in need of academic skills, or who have other problems.

The program is statewide. In Pasco, the girls go to school on the second floor of a Grand Boulevard building, where they also receive services that include therapeutic support and life-management skills.

Funding for PACE comes in part from the Department of Juvenile Justice. The program's goals are to prevent school withdrawal, juvenile delinquency, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and welfare dependency.

And the staff focuses on the girls' potential, the positive.

At PACE, "you learn that you're better than what you think you are," 16-year-old Tabatha, who spoke at the breakfast, said in an interview.

Wednesday's event drew a crowd of about 150, double the turnout of 2005. The total proceeds should exceed $20,000 once all the pledges are in, said PACE of Pasco executive director Danielle Taylor-Fagan.

Her program helps about 125 young women and their families each year.

The wait time for those who wish to enroll, though, is two months.

"The number of girls in this county who need help continues to grow, and their problems become increasingly more complex," board chairwoman Dee Thomas said.

Soon, Alissa will be a student at Palm Harbor University High. And considering recent Pasco PACE statistics, her future looks bright.

Ninety-seven percent of the girls improve academically. Eighty-five percent of those who were at PACE for six months or more had not entered or re-entered the juvenile justice system one year later.

Sixty-seven percent fewer PACE girls used drugs after going through the program. "And that's amazing when you consider we're not a substance abuse facility," Taylor-Fagan said.

When Alissa first enrolled in the program 18 months ago, she, like many of the girls, was a tough sell with an even tougher demeanor.

Girls who think they can go there and not become different are mistaken, Alissa said.

"The most stubborn people like me actually do change and open up."

[Last modified June 18, 2006, 03:32:27]

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