When Skylar Keller first enrolled at the PACE Center for Girls in Alachua, she suffered from social anxiety and had difficulty speaking about her past traumas. Now, Keller has told her story to rooms of over 400 people.
The 17-year-old Gainesville resident is one of 56 girls enrolled in PACE Center for Girls Alachua, a program offering counseling and individualized education to girls. The girls attending PACE, from age 11 to 18, usually come from backgrounds of substance abuse, prior arrests, emotional health concerns and foster homes.
Natalya Bannister, executive director of PACE Alachua, said the number of girls at the center has almost doubled from 32 to 56 since 2014, contributing to the need for expansion. As part of that expansion, PACE will welcome 14 new girls and a new reading teacher in the coming weeks, according to Anthony Pierce, community engagement manager for PACE.
Along with increasing their enrollment, the new PACE Butterfly Center will provide more physical space for the girls. The building opened in January with new showers, a large common room and a kitchen complete with sinks, microwaves and refrigerators.
The Butterfly Center’s common area now has room for all of the girls to lunch together. The space is also used for yoga classes and dance team practice.
The idea for the Butterfly Center came two and a half years ago and the center raised more than $550,000 in donations, Bannister said. Patrons ranged from the Patti Shively Foundation, which donated $150,000, to an anonymous donor who contributed $100,000. Bryan Nazworth, president of Quality Designworks, led the construction.
“Everyone really believes in our mission,” Bannister said. “That’s the foundation of what brought this together.”
Bannister said an academic success plan is outlined for each girl entering the PACE program, with mental health counselors available for consulting. The center serves as a school that allows girls who’ve fallen behind to catch up in course work, with individualized study plans. The students meet every month with their counselor and a parent or guardian.
“In high school your counselors never call on you to talk to you unless it’s about school or graduating,” Keller said. “Here, your counselors will call you every week or two weeks and say, ‘Tell me how things are at home. Tell me how you’re feeling.’ ”
Keller said she sees the staff on a daily basis, making it easy to speak about her traumas and day-to-day life with any employee.
“You can’t come here without having that someone looking out for you,” Keller said.
She said her favorite part of PACE is the friendships.
“Everyone’s close knit; it’s like a family here,” she said. “Here, it’s just a routine of love.”