New PACE center will help twice the number of girls

It was like pulling teeth to get her girls to school.

The younger one had an attitude “out of this world” and the older one probably would have flunked, one 31-year-old mother said.

PACE student Josie Lara, 15, center, laughs with classmates and math teacher Thomas Tompkins, right, as Tompkins jokes with them about giving extra homework to their parents while waiting for the groundbreaking of the new PACE Center in Immokalee on Thursday afternoon. The new facility will more than triple the size of the current building and serve nearly double the number of girls. The PACE Center is a juvenile justice nonresidential program for at-risk girls ages 8-18.

Photo by DAVID AHNTHOLZ, Naples Daily News

PACE student Josie Lara, 15, center, laughs with classmates and math teacher Thomas Tompkins, right, as Tompkins jokes with them about giving extra homework to their parents while waiting for the groundbreaking of the new PACE Center in Immokalee on Thursday afternoon. The new facility will more than triple the size of the current building and serve nearly double the number of girls. The PACE Center is a juvenile justice nonresidential program for at-risk girls ages 8-18.

Delicia Powell marveled at the changes she’s seen in her daughters, ages 11 and 14, since they started at PACE Center for Girls in Immokalee, a school to keep at-risk girls out of trouble and to help them set goals.

Her girls now get As and Bs. They want to go to college. They help her around the house. They respect their teachers.

Powell had tears in her eyes after Clashauna, 14, sang the national anthem. Her 11-year-old, Alicia, showed plans to visitors for a 21,250-square-foot building to triple PACE capacity at a Thursday groundbreaking ceremony for the project.

“They just surprise me every time with what they accomplish here,” said Powell, a single mother rearing seven children.

She hopes to send her 10-year-old to the new school.

There’s space for 40 girls at its current cramped quarters while the planned campus could hold 80 students and whittle down the waiting list that’s now 200 long, PACE officials said.

Plans call for a gym, library, small gardens, lunch room and private counseling rooms. The school would be more than three times the size of the 6,000-square-foot building PACE rents for $70,000 a year, officials said.

“We can just do more, much more and cost less,” said Pat Barton, president of the PACE Immokalee board at the Thursday ceremony attended by 80 to 90 people on the project site.

The proposed campus will be across the street from the current school at North First Street. The nonprofit organization has raised half of the $6.2 million it needs to complete the project.

“Yes, we have a challenge but the challenge is worth it,” Barton said, pointing to 14 girls with pink shovels they decorated with bows and glitter to give to supporters ready to turn the first pile of dirt.

Mary Trevino, 15, told the audience she came to PACE with dozens of fights on her record. She’s had only one fight in her three years there. Now she’s president of student government and getting letters from Harvard University.

“I had a reputation for the girl you didn’t want to mess with in middle school,” she said. “To tell you the truth, I’d probably be in jail talking through a glass window to my mom if it wasn’t for them.”

Barton hopes to submit the project’s permit application to Collier County officials by February, start construction in March and finish the project in a year. The planned building will be named for Isabel Collier Read, a PACE supporter. The Immokalee school is one of 19 PACE centers throughout the state run by the nonprofit organization.

Alicia, Powell’s 11-year-old, said she’s already avoided one fight after talking to a social worker in her first few months at PACE.

“I was like, ‘Oh forget it. She’s not worth it,’” she said.

She said they need more space to help girls like her.

“We need more room because more girls have flunked and they could get here,” Alicia said.

Clashauna said PACE helped her to stop talking back and rolling her eyes to teachers but they need more space.

Delicia congratulated her girls after the ceremony.

“When you want them to have it and you don’t think they have it but then when you see them accomplish it, oh, man, it’s truly an experience.”

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Anyone interested in donating to PACE or finding out more about the new facility may call 657-2400. On the Web: www.pacecenter.org.

© 2006 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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