The leader of a string of Florida schools that intervene to keep girls out of the juvenile justice system wants to build in Georgia. She’s asking lawmakers to help open a new center in Macon.
“Think of it like a school with comprehensive wraparound social services,” said Mary Marx, president and CEO of the Jacksonville, Florida-based PACE Center for Girls, speaking just after making a presentation to a panel of budget-writing lawmakers at the state Capitol in Atlanta on Wednesday.
PACE is asking for $843,750 to open a Macon center that would serve about 50 girls at a time. PACE would operate with a mix of public and private money, as it does in its 19 Florida locations. The Macon idea already has financial support from the office of the Macon Judicial Circuit’s district attorney.
The “school” part is familiar: Classes five days a week in things like English and math, though the classes would be small.
The “wraparound social services” includes things like counselors and case workers who help girls deal with the kinds of unresolved traumas and instability that tend to lead to juvenile court.
“With girls, it is really histories of physical and sexual abuse,” Marx said.
But Marx also said among the girls PACE serves, there are a lot of histories of incarcerated family members, poverty, substance abuse and mental health diagnoses.
She said its alumnae return to their public schools doing much better academically, and they overwhelmingly avoid run-ins with the law.
“With the right set of supports, girls really can become a strong force for social and economic good in their communities,” Marx said. “It’s really breaking generational cycles of poverty and violence because today’s PACE girls are tomorrow’s mothers and workforce.”
Those same dire histories told by PACE students tend to be the same factors that indicate if a girl is or will be a victim of trafficking, Macon Judicial Circuit District Attorney David Cooke told lawmakers.
Cooke said he can’t think of a better thing for Macon.
“They fix and heal these girls right off and build strong women so they don’t have to be looked at or treated more severely later either by my office or by a physician,” Cooke told lawmakers.
He said his office has already donated $150,000 in forfeiture money, and pledged another $50,000 to match PACE’s private fundraising.
Budget hearings at the state Capitol will finish in the coming weeks.
Maggie Lee: @maggie_a_lee