TAMPA — For 20 years, the PACE Center for Girls Hillsborough has been a beacon for young girls who were at risk of being lost to the justice system.
Next week dozens of the center's leaders, staff, and community partners will gather to celebrate this milestone at a Legacy Luncheon at the waterfront Rusty Pelican restaurant.
It's also the perfect occasion to formally kickoff a five-year, $5 million fundraising campaign that will expand the center's current space so that it can increase its reach to more girls, said executive director Tanya Hollins.
"We have the plans, we have the renderings," she said.
When completed, the new building will usher the center into a new era that's a far cry away from its humble beginnings in a small office with staff of 10 and just 40 clients.
Today, about 40 staff members run the center's alternative education program in which 65 young women are enrolled. Another 120 receive mental health counseling and other services while at school or at home, Hollins said.
Hollins, who came on board in 2012, said PACE has grown not only in numbers but also in influence with lawmakers and stakeholders.
"We are at the table helping to inform policy and being partners … for the girls we serve and the community we serve as a whole," she said.
The center's programming also has changed, most notably in implementing career preparedness and life skills education.
Hollins said when she came in, she zeroed in on boosting services that helped students prepare for life after high-school, teaming with community partners to provide the girls with internships and vocational training.
"These girls are not the typical type to go on to college," she said. "But there was a gap in how we were preparing them self-sufficiency and economic independence."
Now, the PACE has an employment program that's placed more than 100 girls in part-time jobs, Hollins said.
It was Hollins and her staff's dedication to improving the girls' lives at any cost that prompted Tara Olmstead to join on as a volunteer three years ago.
Once a week, Olmstead held a class teaching the girls etiquette and how to build self-esteem.
She was excited, but the girls didn't match her enthusiasm. Over time, the girls came to trust Olmstead and form a bond with her.
When Olmstead was asked to join the PACE's board, she readily accepted and hit the ground raising money and advocating for the center in Tallahassee.
Olmstead said the dedication of PACE's staff and leadership to the girls inspired her to step up her commitment from weekly volunteer to board member.
"I saw how they loved these girls and I thought 'This is for me'," she said. "You cannot do this program with a broad brush. Each person is individually handled."
That personal care and attention makes a difference, Olmstead said.
"By the time they graduate, their shoulders are back, and they're ready to tackle the world," she said.
PACE's leaders and staff members strive for daily to assist the girls' transformation from downtrodden to empowered, Hollins said.
"If I know that I've done that, I can rest easy," she said.
Contact Kenya Woodard at firstname.lastname@example.org.