Fighting to Survive

One of Florida's only programs to help troubled girls could be in jeopardy. A grassroots effort helped the PACE Center for Girls fight off a massive budget cut last spring, but the highly successful program now fears it will have to fight for its life all over again.

Thirteen-year-old Amanda Hobkirk is showing visitors around the PACE Center for Girls. A former top student, family troubles and problems at school caused her grades to plummet, but she says coming to pace turned her life around.

“[It] has helped because the teachers are there. The teachers care. When you have a family problem the counselors are there for you,” said Amanda.

But the program that helps keep nine out of every 10 of its students out of the juvenile justice system could again be facing budget cuts.

PACE girls rallied at the capitol last spring when the governor's office threatened to slash their budget by $10 million. Funding was eventually restored, but word of possible cuts next year has pace fearing for the worst again.

PACE doesn't know yet how much or if lawmakers will cut their funding, but staffers are frustrated they have to keep making their case year after year.

Executive Director Debbie Moroney says if anything, the need is growing for girl-centered programs like pace.

“Over the last 10 years we've seen a tremendous 67 percent increase in girls entering the juvenile justice system so the need's there. The program's successful, and it's, you know, why do we have to keep going over this territory?” said Debbie.

The State Department of Juvenile Justice is asking the governor to recommend full funding for PACE next year. The PACE girls hope he listens. There are 19 PACE centers around the state. The program served about 2,000 teens last year.