Sen. Dorothy Hukill was also presented with the 2017 and 2018 Legislator of the Year awards.
Brianna grew up in Daytona Beach never knowing her biological parents. They had left her and her siblings to be in and out of foster care.
Brianna was later adopted, but what seemed like a positive change soon took a turn for the worst when she began being sexually abused. She became depressed and struggled throughout middle school. But when she entered high school she enrolled in the Volusia-Flagler PACE Center for Girls, where she found the support and encouragement she needed from teachers, counselors and other mentors.
Brianna is now an honor roll student and has received all her credits to be a senior this year. She plans to one day have her own clothing line. She has also become a role model for other young girls who are hurting or struggling.
Brianna's story was one of three told by girls who have gone through or are still participating in the PACE program for young women in middle and high school who are at-risk. The girls' stories were a part of the Friday, June 1, Volusia-Flagler PACE “Believing in Girls” breakfast, where attendees were able to learn more about the program and the progress it has made for young women within the region.
"Young women need an extra push and I think we as a community, as a whole, need to give them the resources they need to succeed," Sen. Dorothy Hukill said. "If we have people that mentor them and help them and lead them in the right direction, they are going to have productive and successful lives."
Hukill has been a longtime advocate for the PACE program and was presented with the 2017 and 2018 Legislator of the Year awards for her work to help the girls attending the center, which was started in the Volusia-Flagler area in1996. Since that time, more than 1,200 girls have gone through the program.
PACE Regional Executive Director Carole Savage said that this area's program is serving about 52 girls on any given day.
"Even though they're all at risk for various reasons, around 90% have gotten a job or gone back to get an education," Savage said. "We're very proud of those statistics, but what's most important is there are beautiful girls behind those numbers and lives behind those numbers that make a difference in our community."
This past week there were five girls who walked across a stage, moved their cap tassels to the other side and graduated from the PACE program. One girl wants to be an emergency medical technician, another would like to be a midwife and others would like to pursue higher education.
"The values and guiding principles at PACE are very important to the work we do," 2018 Board Chair Joyce Shanahan said. "They are integrated into our everyday practices with the girls, they form a foundation for them and a reminder for how we should live our lives."