A program much like an alternative school for at-risk middle and high school girls across Macon could become a reality in 18 months.
The Bibb County District Attorney’s Office is working to bring the Florida-based PACE Center for Girls to Macon, making it the first such center in Georgia. The center would provide academic classes and therapeutic services to at-risk girls in Bibb County schools who’ve been recommended for the program by Juvenile Court.
“Data suggests that helping young girls and young women gives us the best bang for our buck,” District Attorney David Cooke said at a news conference Monday afternoon. “These centers work to equip girls to become successful in school, and they provide wrap-around services to the entire family so that when girls return to their neighborhood schools, they will succeed and graduate.”
The PACE Center, which has 19 locations in Florida, has an 85 to 90 percent success rate, he said. About 50 girls at a time would attend the year-round PACE Center for six to nine months — or however long is needed to complete the program — before returning to their regular school.
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Cooke’s office recently committed $150,000 in forfeited funds to begin raising the nearly $800,000 needed to get the program set up with a location and staff in Macon. Cooke said Monday that he would commit an additional $50,000 to the program if public and priviate donations also totaled $200,000. Cooke projects the center will be operable in early 2018.
Donations can be made by texting 71777 PACE CG or by visiting United Way of Central Georgia's website.
Macon-Bibb County’s legislative chairman, state Rep. Bubber Epps, R-Dry Branch, said it is “incumbent upon our delegation” to look for state appropriations to help pay for such programs. However, even with a state appropriation, the center would require about $300,000 annually in private and public money to continue operating, said Mary Marx, the president and chief executive officer for the PACE Center for Girls.
Across Georgia last year, about 14,000 girls dropped out of school, and thousands were arrested. More than 22 percent of girls across Bibb County live in households below the poverty level, Marx said.
Macon was picked out of about five other locations as a good fit for the PACE Center based on a number of factors, including the population of girls ages 10-17, crime rates and dropout rates, she said.
“When you break the cycle of generational poverty and abuse and neglect, you do so through the girls,” Marx said. “Think about the girls who will grow up to be the future mothers, the future workforce, the future community leaders. We can break that cycle of poverty. We have done it in Florida, and we’re so excited to be bringing that to Georgia.”