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Love that Dress! collection party to be held on Sanibel

By Staff | Aug 5, 2010

The PACE Center for Girls is excited to have their first Sanibel fundraiser this year with their upcoming “Love that Dress” fashion show featuring many designer clothes. The event will be held Tuesday, Aug. 10, in the Tahitian Gardens. Barb Stevens (committee member and PACE volunteer), Alice Brunner (Executive Director), Melissa Simontis (Development Diector), Amy Sanford (Chair "Portraits of PACE lunch"), Barb Harrington (Coordinator of Sanibel’s "Love that Dress" collection party), and Christin Collins (Board of Directors and Chair of "Love that Dress!" fashion show).

The Royal Shell Companies, Norman Love Confections and The Timbers Restaurant are hosting Sanibel’s very first Love That Dress! Collection Party benefitting The PACE (Practical Academic Cultural Education) Center for Girls of Lee County. This party will take place at Tahitian Gardens, 1975 Periwinkle Way, on Tuesday, Aug. 10, from 5 to 7 p.m.

“I think the pre-collection party on Sanibel will help introduce our mission to residents on the island,” said Melissa Simontis, the Development Director for PACE, “helping girls find their voicea and achieve their potential.”

Admission is one gently worn or new dress (more will be gratefully accepted). What type? attractive, barely used and ranging from formal (even wedding dresses) to sundress and everything in between, according to Barb Harrington of The Royal Shell Companies, “including shoes and accessories!”

Christin Colllins who works with Norman Love Confections chairs the “Love That Dress!” event and approached Harrington about getting Sanibel more involved with PACE and, perhaps, hosting a Collection Party. “PACE is a very successful program with young women,” Harrington said, “and I thought it important to increase Sanibel’s support of such an organization. Several Sanibel women in Zonta are strong, strong supporters; they even helped the girls develop a garden at the school, among other ventures.”

Bring a friend and a digital camera and come to Adventures in Paradise Outfitters store in Tahitian Gardens. Enjoy wine, hors d’oeuvres, Chinese auction items and get ready for fun — all for a good cause. Tahitian Garden’s merchants have a special night planned. The RSVP line is 333-3575.

“Love That Dress!” — the ultimate feel-good shopping spree — will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 1, at Embassy Suites Hotel in Estero. To get into this event, a gently worn or new dress must be donated at one of the PACE Center’s selected drop off points. Check out the agency’s website at www.pacecenter.org for more information.

The non-profit organization often acts as a lifeline for young women who if not for the agency might wind up incarcerated, victimized or both. Simontis said PACE, an accredited school for middle and highschool aged girls takes in girls who are truant, hanging out with the wrong crowd, who have been victimized and have suffered some sort of trauma in their life. While at PACE, girls learn how to build self-esteem skills and are given individualized help for their unique issues and challenges. After leaving the school, students have formal follow-up for one to two yars, Simontis said.

Many of these girls begin to see themselves as leaders and capable of realizing dreams and accomplishing goals. “We’re happy to be a part of them reaching their potential and realizing their dreams,” Simontis said.

PACE is not court-ordered. Some wind up going to the school based on self-referral or encouragement from a parent or teacher.

Simontis said one 16-year-old student went from skipping school and actually missing an entire semester to becoming vice-president of student government and a mentor. She wants to go to Florida Gulf Coast University and become a juvenile probation officer.

PACE, a 25 year-old agency, has 17 centers in Florida. PACE in Fort Myers has just reached its third year, Simontis said. The school has served over 300 girls in the three years they have been in Fort Myers.

In the early 1980s professionals working in the juvenile court system in Jacksonville realized that girls involved in delinquent activities were either not being held accountable, being placed in boys’ programs, or placed further into the system for their own protection.

There were no effective alternatives.

The PACE concept was developed and implemented in 1985 by founder Vicki Burke. Guided by the research-based recommendations of the Valentine Foundation, which called for gender responsive programming, PACE created a new alternative to institutionalization or incarceration — an effective method to meet the needs of the adolescent at-risk female. The first program was housed in the basement of a downtown Jacksonville church and served 10 girls. Now, 25 years later, PACE’s 17 centers and outreach program have served over 21,000 Florida girls.

PACE Center for Girls, Inc. is a 501(c)3 community-based, gender-responsive prevention, diversion and early intervention program serving girls ages 12 to 17, in 17 locations across the state. The program fulfills the Department of Juvenile Justice’s statutory requirement to provide prevention and gender-specific programming for girls.

PACE values all girls and young women, believing each one deserves an opportunity to find her voice, achieve her potential and celebrate a life defined by responsibility, dignity, serenity and grace.

As just one example of providing a ‘well-rounded’ education, in March Wendy Newman, Miss Florida 1978, and Jason’s Deli partnered to bring etiquette training to girls served by the PACE Center for Girls of Lee County. To offer a formal atmosphere for the special occasion, the PACE Center transformed its cafeteria into a spring themed afternoon tea with a plated meal. Jason’s donated mini croissant sandwiches, pasta salad, desserts and tea for 50 girls. Newman, who offers this training annually for PACE Lee, guided the girls in practicing table manners, conversational charm, redirecting from uncomfortable subjects, and how to be a good hostess.

“Jason’s is honored to partner with PACE in such a fun and meaningful way,” said Diana Willis, owner of five Jason’s Delis in Southwest Florida “Sharing conversation over good food, both personally and professionally, should be an enjoyable and dignified experience. Without PACE, many of these girls would never learn these important lessons.”

PACE provides girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy.

The program’s successful model has been nationally recognized for helping girls by integrating education, counseling, training and advocacy. It has also been recognized by the Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention’s Girls Study Group as the most effective program in the nation for keeping adolescent girls out of the juvenile justice system and has been named by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s KIDS COUNT Report (in a state-by-state analysis) as a national model for reducing recidivism and improving school success, employment and self-sufficiency among girls.

These accolades are welcomed recognition of the program’s success, but what matters more is that PACE provides help for girls who come from difficult life situations with a safe, nurturing place to find a path back to hope. More than half of girls who come to PACE are the young victims of physical or sexual abuse and many are failing or have dropped out of school. PACE understands the relationship between victimization and delinquency in girls and helps girls turn their lives around.

“The PACE Center for Girls is one of my greatest passions,” well-known Captivan Sandy Silverglide said. “The mission stands for itself, but what I’m impressed with are our results. The percentage of girls who come through the program and stay out of trouble is amazing.

“Many of the girls are victims of abuse. We counsel them and work with them… When you are a victim of abuse you can either become bitter and spend the rest of your life being a victim, or move on to being better and realize that you can become successful and put that horrible hurt behind you.

“I’ve been on the board of directors for three years. We watch over the funds closely and are good stewards. Our board takes its leadership responsibility very seriously — to the extent that 100 percent of the board members support PACE financially. We even offer scholarships if girls want to continue through college. Zonta on Sanibel (of which I am also a member) has been a BIG supporter since the program started here.

“Please come to the event, give dresses and have lots of fun,” she concluded. “Don’t forget that you can also attend the big event in September and shop, too. The more top quality items we have, the more it keeps the event at the level we want (and need) it to be.

Last year’s Love That Dress! debut was a huge success, raising thousands of dollars and causing Marc Blust of the Prawnbroker/Timbers group to comment that it was “Lee County’s most successful new fundraiser for the entire year!” This year’s event is expected to be even more successful. Where else can a woman enhance her wardrobe, save money, network and benefit a worthwhile cause?

Love That Dress! — the ultimate feel-good shopping spree — will take place on Wednesday, Sept. 1, at Embassy Suites Hotel in Estero. From 6 to 9 p.m., stake your claim on thousands of new and gently worn dresses and accessories selling for nominal prices, place bids in the popular silent auction, and enjoy camaraderie and cocktails with hundreds of others who support PACE!

(Material from the PACE websitewww.pacecenter.org has been used and compiled in putting this story together.)