"This is your painting…this is your art," says Eric Gordan, an Art Educator from Taylor County High School. "You are free to put on your painting, on your canvas, whatever you want."

The Pace Center has gathered the group of at-promise youth ages 11-17 at the Booker T. Washington Center for a group session using art therapy called Paint & Sip. As they enjoy sparkling grape juice and light snacks, Eric is giving eight young women some final tips before they begin painting on their canvas. The advice on painting, though, could easily be applied to their lives, letting them know the future was in their hands and anything is possible.

"Activities such as these create a culture of camaraderie, which is very important because oftentimes girls with trauma build a defensive wall where they keep to themselves," says Rebecca Richard, Reach Program Manager. "This creative therapy technique allows girls to be vulnerable: to try something new, with new people, in a safe and supportive environment."

With an MVP grant provided to the Pace Center, Pace will expand their programs to reach more youth. They are getting $40,000 to hire an additional therapist to provide more group and individual services to at-promise youth.

"I don't just help kids create great art…I use art to help create great kids," is written in large, bold, and colorful letters on Eric's shirt, easily read by the young women as he walks around giving them tips on combining colors, which brushes to use, and what might look good. Each time, he's helping them figure out how to best create the picture of themselves.

"If you could live anywhere, where would it be?"

The Caribbean, Italy Germany

"If you could have one superpower, what would it be?"

Invisibility, teleportation, read minds, stop time, time travel

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"Are you ready for school to start back?"

NO, with laughter

Each question starts a round of discussion between the girls and with the adults on why they selected each answer. Where the room had been mostly quiet before, with talk only of paint colors, the questions are leading to laughter, back stories, and conversation. The room has lightened up, and the young women are becoming more at ease with conversation.

They are now discussing what colors they're each using and why. They are complimenting each other on combinations and styles, then asking for advice on their own paintings. In a short amount of time, the combination of painting, snacks, and conversation has brought them closer together and at ease with opening up to each other.

"Only a few of these girls knew each other before this activity," adds Rebecca. "When these girls go back to school in August, they will be able to recognize and have had a positive experience with at least one more person in their community."

About the Pace Center for Girls

Paint & Sip is part of a months-long program for the young women to help them improve their self-efficacy and protecting factors, learn more about themselves, and grow closer with and learn from peers who have had similar life experiences. Other activities during the program include a vision board crafting, goal setting activities, and decision-making discussions.

Pace provides girls and young women an opportunity for a better future through education, counseling, training, and advocacy. 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. Pace believes in a world where all girls and young women have POWER, in a JUST and EQUITABLE society. Since 2020, Pace has provided individual and group therapy to 56 girls in MBC.

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Pace's Reach Program Services offer social, emotional, behavioral, and mental health counseling to girls ages 11-17 and their families. We deliver supportive therapy specifically designed for girls in middle and high school in a variety of convenient, easy-to-access locations, including in their home, school, community or online.

About the Macon Violence Prevention Grants

More than $800,000 is being given to 25 nonprofit and faith-based organizations to put in place programs and efforts to reduce violent crime; each goal they are trying to meet was made by the nearly 2,000 people through forums and surveys on what our neighborhoods need. Those outcomes are outlined in the MVP Strategic Plan, and the full list of organizations and programs can be found by clicking here. Organizations were selected through an application and review process led by the Community Foundation of Central Georgia.

"The solution to violent crime in our community will be found in all of us working together on the same team," explained Mayor Lester Miller. "The fact that more than 50 organizations came to the table with good ideas and applied for MVP grants shows that the people of our community are committed to this historic effort. If we continue to work together, we will create a safer, stronger community now and for future generations."

Macon Violence Prevention is an evidence-based, multifaceted program created to address public safety in Macon-Bibb County. Supported and funded by the consolidated government, MVP is a community-wide effort that brings together elected officials, community leaders, agencies, organizations, and departments.

The MVP program operates under the guidance of the MVP Strategic Plan, which was introduced in June of 2021. Created by community stakeholders and violent crime experts, this strategic plan combines data and research with community feedback to implement proven solutions that reduce violent crime and strengthen the community over time.

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