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Pace Center for Girls gets $2 million for substance abuse prevention

Pace Center murals
Raymon Troncoso
Pace students Destiny and Kayle next to murals they painted, part of a larger art installation celebrating International Day of the Girl and National Substance Abuse Prevention Month.

The Pace Center for Girls, an education program for at-risk teenage girls in middle and high school, is expanding services for substance abuse prevention and intervention thanks to a new $2 million grant.

The award from THE PLAYERS Championship Village will fund a three-year pilot program through Pace Reach, which provides therapy and support through a community-based model. The grant will fund services for 100 girls each year in Duval and Clay counties, as well as their families.

"The partnership with [The Village] really is so important to our Northeast Florida community, because it will have a really long lasting and positive impact on substance abuse prevention and early intervention in Northeast Florida," Mary Marx, Pace Center president, said Tuesday. "One out of two girls that come to Pace come from a household that's dealing with substance abuse issues, and one out of three girls come to Pace with a history of self-reported substance use, so increasing access to health and mental health holistic wellness for our girls is of critical importance."

The announcement of the grant coincided with the Pace Center celebrating the International Day of the Girl, as well as a recognition of National Substance Abuse Prevention Month.

As part of the celebration, Pace unveiled a mural at its Jacksonville campus by Florida artist Nico Holderbaum, with a second to be installed at its Clay County location in the future. Pace students collaborated with Nico on the mural and other smaller scale paintings exploring their experiences with trauma, mental health and time at the Pace Center.

The project, dubbed "You Belong Here," is meant to send a message of acceptance, inclusion and worth to future Pace girls who come to the campus.

Services at the Pace Center, including academic programming and the Reach program being funded by the grant, are free for enrolled girls and their families. Pace is primarily funded through state and local government grants, along with donations from businesses, nonprofits and private philanthropists.

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.