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Impressive success for program assisting young girls

Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center | September 29, 2014

Three girls involved in the Girl Matters: It's Elementary program at North Shore Elementary took part in a recent event at the Cummer. From left, Alice Cook, fifth grade; Kayla Booker, third grade; and Jahniya McCrimager, right, fourth grade.

Posted: September 26, 2014 – 4:39pm via jacksonville.com

The excellence of Jacksonville’s nonprofit community was on display recently as a group of civic leaders met to celebrate a program with a great record of success .

The program is called Girl Matters: It’s Elementary.

It is designed to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline for girls in elementary school and put them on the parth to productive lives.

SAVING GIRLS FROM DESPAIR, CHAOS

It didn’t come quickly or easily, but the one constant was the vision of Lawanda Ravoira, who has dedicated her life to saving girls from despair and chaos.

In the 1990s, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund invested in early research that challenged the state of Florida to stop sending girls to jail for minor offenses and instead invest in smarter and less expensive options.

In 2006, Ravoira returned to the duPont Fund for another research study that documented that prison was the default option for too many girls in trouble. Jail was not helping them and instead victimized them again with sexual exploitation, trauma, violence and abuse.

The Women’s Giving Alliance heard the rallying cry, Ravoira told an audience of supporters recently at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens.

Together, this group set about to create a national model for the rest of country right here in Jacksonville. The object was to invest in the future of girls who otherwise would be caught in the juvenile justice and child protection system.

School suspensions are the major warning signs.

Some girls were being suspended early in their school years. Studies show that about 7 in 10 girls in the juvenile justice system have a history of suspensions.

So logic dictated that girls with suspension issues needed to be identified early and offered support. Often the misbehavior reflected problems at home.

Through Girl Matters, the young girls received crisis intervention, one-on-one counseling, mentoring with interns, referrals to community services and positive relationships with adults.

The girls got the message.

They felt that people were caring for them — in fact some very important people.

The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center was established in 2013 to support outstanding projects like this one with Ravoira as its CEO.

Still, more funding support was needed. That is where national nonprofits came in.

NON PROFIT SUPPORT

Sherry Magill, CEO of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, said that many people in Jacksonville do not understand the importance of national philanthropic dollars.

The fact that Jacksonville is “changing the equation” for children helped attract the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The equation is being changed in terms of human lives. Girl Matters was introduced in two elementary schools, North Shore and George Washington Carver.

From 2011 to 2014, 713 girls were served.

Suspensions dropped by 68 percent in the first year and 89 percent last year. Is there any other prevention or intervention program with a similar record of success?

Ravoira led a celebration of the program’s initial success and outlined plans for the future. Discussions are under way with the Duval County Public Schools to expand the program to Southside Middle School, which has a large immigrant community.

Supporters of Girl Matters can look proudly at their success. But they need more partners and supporters.

Ravoira told the story of a girl who stood in one of the first girls courts in the United States. She was crying in front of Circuit Judge David Gooding.

“I’m crying because all of these people are here to help me,” the girl said.

Yes, they were.

And they will continue to be there for other girls, too — thanks to the inspiring work of Girls Matters.

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