Voices for Florida Girls seeks solutions and aims to help girls reach their potential.
Susan Remmer-Ryzewic remembered being a young girl with growing pains and how a teacher reached out to help.
It was an act of kindness that she said changed the course of her life.
“Girls need people to step up and make that difference in their lives as they struggle with the harsh realities of the world,” said Remmer-Ryzewic, president and CEO of Ponte Vedra Beach-based EHR Investments Inc.
That’s why Remmer-Ryzewic and her sisters organized the First Coast Girls Initiative in 2001 to advocate for at-risk girls. It’s why she recently helped launch a new statewide initiative, Voices for Florida Girls, designed to bring to the forefront and find solutions for issues that inhibit at-risk girls from reaching their potential.
In June, she told her childhood story at the kickoff, which brought together about 50 area civic and business leaders. They are now spreading the word about the initiative via networking and their Facebook pages, among other things.
The next step is to get people to join the process, in which they will first learn the obstacles that face girls today and the “best practices” intervention programs available to help them, said Linda Alexionok. She is director of Voices for Florida, the nonprofit leading the charge, and executive director of The Children’s Campaign, a Florida watchdog group.
After the “know” period, residents will share the information they learned with their community, civic and church groups; help the nonprofit get areawide discussions going about programs and funding; and provide grassroots leadership to get them implemented, Alexionok said.
At-risk girls are the focus because 33 percent of the referrals to the juvenile justice system are girls, but there is a “disparity of services” for them, with only 5 percent of resources directed to their needs, Alexionok said. Also, if their issues remain unresolved as they enter womanhood, they are more vulnerable to poor physical and mental health, substance abuse, arrests, domestic violence and parenting challenges.
The initiative was launched here, she said, because Jacksonville has been a national model, led by Justice for Girls: The Duval County Girls’ Initiative and its leadership council, the Pace Center for Girls and the Jessie Ball duPont Fund, among others.
A 2012 Georgetown University study on at-risk girls singled out Duval County’s “gender-responsive” training for juvenile justice program staff and “carefully tailored” pilot early intervention programs as examples of local reform efforts.
Also, Voices for Florida is partnering with the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, a Jacksonville nonprofit formed in 2012 that advocates for policies and practices supporting girls.
“When the students are ready, the teacher appears,” said Alexionok, a former teacher. “The community of Jacksonville is ready to embrace it. … If you learn more, you can do more.”
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