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Heidi Hugh, Community Hero


Spotlight Interview with Heidi Hugh – November Newsletter


Tracy Carter: This month is all about giving back, and today we have with us Heidi Hugh, Development Manager at Pace Center for Girls. This year EmpowHERment in partnership with Pace will be holding our annual holiday drive. Welcome Heidi, and thanks so much for being here with us today.


Heidi Hugh: Thanks for having me Tracy. I really appreciate it.


TC: You’re welcome. Can you please share with me a little bit about Pace Center for Girls and the population that it serves?


HH: Sure. So, Pace is a free prevention program for what we like to call at promise young ladies, ages 11 through 17 served all throughout Pinellas County and so at Pace, we provide girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training and advocacy, and we support the girls in a holistic manner. So, the girls come to us for their education and their social services, but we also care for the girls in other ways that they may need when they're here because we know that girls are not going to be able to focus in math class if they're hungry or if they haven't been able to change their shorts in a week or whatever that is like. So, we take care of the whole girl while they're here at Pace.


TC: And I can tell just from hearing you speak that Pace is very strengths based because something I noticed you said is, we always here at risk. We hear that everywhere… at risk youth, at risk teens, and you said, at promise. I love that. Can you elaborate on that a little bit? That was beautiful.


HH: Thanks. Thanks. That's one of our three pillars that we live by here at Pace. So, we are strengths-based trauma-informed, and gender-responsive. Strengths-based, of course means that we want to focus on where the girls are strong, and we want them to show us where they are strong and really lead with those, and we'll meet them everywhere else. We will meet them wherever they are in the other places, but every girl has, you know, her strong side and we want them to be able to show us where those are. Gender-responsive, of course, means that we know how girls learn. We know what makes them tick. Based on Pace research that has been done over the years, we know a lot about girls and their education, and how they learn best and how they interact with others. So, that really helps us in our programming, you know, how to work with the girls and how to help them in the best way possible. And then we're also trauma-informed. So, we know that every one of our girls has some kind of background that generally includes some kind of trauma, and so we want to make sure that we're treating each girl with the respect that she deserves based on the past that she has come from and that we know how to be a part of those conversations with her that aren't triggering and aren't presumptuous or don't allow the girl to succeed in the best way possible. We want to make sure that she always feels like she is a part of the conversation and not being talked to.


TC: Wow…you definitely do focus on the whole girl which is great, and can you share success story with us?


HH: Sure, sure. We have a lot of success stories which we’re very proud of, but I will share a most recent. We had a young lady come to us a couple of years ago as a truant teen. She had missed so much school and was really independent at such a young age, and that really hindered her learning and social bonds with others and really her growth. So, she was in a hard place, and so she came to Pace a year behind in school when she got here. You know, after being here for a couple of months, something just kind of clicked, and she just kind of leaned into the program if you will. So, you know, really got a hold of the social services piece and really just started to really grasp the academics. But, what was really cool, and this is kind of a blessing in disguise during COVID, you know, even during a year, which is full of uncertainty, and honestly, full of a lot of negativity, she turned that experience into a positive for her. So, when we issued the girls computers to be able to take home and learn from home, she used that time away from Pace to excel in all of her courses, and get ahead even a year early. So, she actually graduated high school with us a year early this May, which was really cool. So, she came in a year behind and still graduated a year early because she took the time to be thoughtful about her future, and used her time wisely to be able to get ahead.


TC: That is awesome to hear, especially I think when she came in and saw the wrap around support that Pace provides, that probably helped her to just grow into who she already was, but helped her to blossom.


HH: Absolutely. Yeah, thankfully she had also been able to, because she took the initiative on her own to be able to do so many things here; she was also afforded the opportunity to represent Pace at the capitol in Tallahassee. She spoke on behalf of Pace at several of our girls leadership council meetings in front of girls across the state. She spoke to donors and gave tours here at the center, so all of that too, I think really showed her that she could do a lot more than she probably gave herself credit for. So, when that time came for her to step up on her own….because she really surprised us all with all of those classes and the work she was doing. So, we knew that she had it in her, but she just went with it, and we hope it was because she felt so much confidence in herself.


TC: And something that stands out to me with this being a month of giving back is, she even took the opportunity to give back and share about her story and how Pace was beneficial to her, and helped her to get where she wanted to be. So that's great. You give girls an opportunity to give back once they reach their goals.


HH: Absolutely… Yes, good role models.


TC: Awesome….And how and when did Pace Center for Girls learn about EmpowHERment?


HH: So, we actually learned about EmpowHERment last year. A friend of mine who is kind of a connector in the community shared a social media post with me that EmpowHERment was connecting with local groups or a Holiday Drive. So, she sent it to me and I immediately called Ambee, and that was my first time getting to know Ambee. I went over for a tour. She was a lovely hostess, and I fell in love with the organization and it is such a good alignment with Pace Center for Girls to be partnered with such an empowering group of women who are really focused on the success of the women and making sure that everyone has the opportunities to really succeed. So, it was a natural fit almost immediately.


TC: That’s great, and this goes right into our next question because when I was reading Pace’s mission, it made me think of this… So, EmpowHERment’s mission is to empower women by helping them in the areas of finances, mental and emotional wellness and cultivating relationships. Pace’s mission, which you shared a little bit about earlier is to provide girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training, and advocacy. Could you talk to us about how the two missions align, and how EmpowHERment has helped to impact the lives of the girls at Pace?


HH: Sure. I love that our missions are so closely tied, and the way that I see them is that Pace’s mission speaks to the girls in the age ranges that are here, and EmpowHERment’s mission speaks to the young women that the girls are when they leave Pace. So they get kind of the fundamentals while they're here, and then they get the extra support and in Partnership through EmpowHERment once they leave… And so I think it's phenomenal to align with such a group in that way, and also provides opportunities for our girls to know that they are well taken care of and well-supported once they leave our organization. They have the same kind of support that they've had here at Pace as they would at EmpowHERment, and also just bringing it to the next level in where they are as young ladies.


TC: Yes, I agree, and I thought about that because it's such a difficult stage of development to go from adolescence into adulthood, and sometimes when those training wheels come off it's like where's my footing? I can't get my footing. So, I think it's great that they leave such a supportive environment and know that…. ‘You know what, I'm still not alone, I still have support out there’ and then EmpowHERment gives them the ability to connect with other women who may share similar experiences and they just know that they're not alone.


HH: Absolutely. I think you're right. We want to really see that. We want the girls here, but as much as we want them here, we also really want them to be successful when they leave here and so EmpowHERment is a perfect place for that, for that support system. You know, sometimes you don't know what you don't know, until you don't know it, and so it's nice to know that there is a group out there who is providing all the information and doing it with a smile.


TC: Yes. Yes. Always with a smile and that's what I love about it. My first time walking into the community center, it was just so warm and inviting and the staff there. Like, even though I know and be very well just walking in there, I'm like, wow, I can imagine like some of the women who come in for groups, how they must feel, just such a warmth, you know.


HH: Absolutely! Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I would think that it would just be a very calming feeling to know that you've landed in a good place.


TC: Yes. Yes, absolutely…and what makes you most excited about this giving season?


HH: To be honest, I love… the holidays are such a special time to begin with, but I'm really excited for the girls to have the opportunity to…At Pace, we've never given this opportunity here before, but we want them to be able to learn what it's like to reciprocate during the holiday season. So, often times girls will, very graciously receive items and donations, and that's wonderful. We want to teach them what it's like to be on the other side of that, and to be where EmpowHERment is in being able to give to the girls at Pace. So, we want to teach them about, you know, what it's like to give to others and what that might mean, and maybe you can't supply a whole families worth of Christmas or you know, provide an entire dinner for a business but everything counts. So, even if it's a small act of kindness, or it's a small little token to let someone know that they're thinking of them, then that's really important too. So, I think as much of a focus that we put on giving during the holiday season, we want to also instill that in our girls too, and how to be another educational opportunity but in a really positive way.


TC: I love that because they also get to experience how rewarding it feels to give of yourself to others…


HH: Absolutely, absolutely!


TC: …even if it’s just giving your time, you know.


HH: Yep, and I think a lot of our girls haven't had that opportunity before. You know, hearing about donors and organizations who we know give to local nonprofits, it's such a special thing, but until you actually do it yourself, you don't know what that feels like.


TC: Right!


HH: So, be able to educate them on why we do it, but also this is why we do it (placing hand over heart).


TC: Yes.


HH: It really comes from the heart, and I think that that's something really neat to instill early on.


TC: Absolutely…and how would you describe EmpowHERment to an organization whose never heard of it?


HH: I would describe it as an organization that wraps you in a hug when you need it, and supports you in all the areas that you didn't know you needed.


TC: Wow!


HH: I love the different opportunities that it provides, the positivity that is shared, the welcome feeling from literally everyone as soon as you walk in the door, and the message that EmpowHERment brings to our community. I say resources you didn't know until you, you know, need them, but I think you know, especially as women sometimes we are… I know, I am… I am always very intent on doing everything and then I get to something sometimes, and I think man I really don't know how to do that. Or, I wish I could talk to another woman about this and maybe someone who's been in this experience before, someone who's wiser than me who's going through this, and EmpowHERment is that place in. So, it's such a beautiful resource to have right in our community.


TC: I agree, and even as a board member, it is so neat to just see how you glean from so many people, you know, because we're kind of behind the scenes as board members, but we can get to see all the inner workings and just how women come together. All of us, come together, support one another and I feel like the playing field is always level and it's just such a powerful thing to bring women together from all walks of life, to be able to uplift each other. And that to me has been like, the most impactful thing, and when you mentioned that it teaches you about resources and provides support you didn't know you need, that makes me wonder. Do you see any gaps in any services that are provided to teens and young women, and how we, as a community can be proactive in facilitating that…filling in that gap.


HH: Yeah, you know, one of the things that I love that EmpowHERment offers is the financial education piece, and I think that that is really a piece that could be better and could be filled a bit as far as gap wise goes in our younger populations because like you mentioned, you know, sometimes you leave your comfort zone and then you go to what's next and then, you know, a lot of girls don't know anything about budgeting for apartments, or buying a car, or getting a bank account…credit card, whatever that looks like. And I think there is that gap there that you know, they don't necessarily need that information as teenagers, but when you get older you do, and who do you turn to for that information? How do you find that information if your circles aren't teaching you, or you're not learning good habits from your circles? So, I think that that is an area that could grow and be better, and I do very well believe that it is a perfect...that EmpowHERment is a perfect next step for our girls who are looking for that kind of education, and really honestly whether they're looking for it or not because I think that's one of those things you don't know until you know. It would be a better resource for us to provide to them now so that they are prepared for it in the future.


TC: Absolutely!


HH: So, that's a perfect partnership opportunity there too.