For abused, neglected or abandoned teens, school is typically a place of frustration, boredom or shame with a lack of genuine caring. As at-risk teens find themselves failing, socially and academically, traditional education options offer little to entice them away from the streets. This is where Grace Place steps in.
Currently an after-school and summer program, Grace Place School is a response to the need for safe, Christ-centered, creative, alternative educational and life-skill programs to help in the prevention and restoration of youth impacted by sex trafficking and other destructive lifestyles. It’s helped heal the brokenness some of these student’s have experienced and plans to offer a small full-time high school program in the future.
Shay, age 13, who participated in their summer program, said Grace Place helped her overcome her weaknesses and anger. “Before I came to Grace Place, I always had an attitude problem, slick mouth, and I was shy. Now I am more helpful, open, confident and caring. I am learning to be more of a leader and how to be brave to help other people.”
Grace Place founder, Elizabeth Coldren, instructed programs for young people at risk for years. Her teaching made her aware of some of the tragedies teenagers go through, which prompted her to create the Grace Place School. Coldren said, “By the end of 2015, we completed our third summer program (third for boys and second for girls) and second after-school program for girls and first after school program for the boys. The themes for the girls were about lies that young women believe, how to look at things and people from different perspectives, sex trafficking awareness and discovering their worth in Christ. This was done through art, videography, wood burning, equestrian, cooking, support groups and Bible study.
Grace Place piloted two sessions: our Be an Entrepreneur and Job Skills Program for 16-18 year-old boys. Utilizing volunteer instructors from the business community, the students were taught principles in personal finance, career preparation and entrepreneurship.”
One participant, Calvin, age 17, said, “Since I have been in this program it taught me a lot of new things like budgeting, opening my own business, savings etc. It helped a lot not only learning new things but we also got paid; it was like getting paid to learn. I also met a lot of new people while attending. They were all positive and awesome.”
“According to Coldren, “Students were also trained in “soft” employability skills such as time management, being an effective team player, appearance and attitude. Each day, the students earned an incentive wage, based on how they met the goals in the soft skill areas. Their ability to earn money proved to be highly motivating, but also afforded opportunities to learn skills such as cashing checks, budgeting to have bus money to get to school, and how to deal with parents who require them to pay a percentage of their earnings.”
In the program at Grace Place School, Treshaun, age 17, said, “I learned how to be an entrepreneur – for example to be an entrepreneur you have to have a plan not only on what you want to buy but also what you want to sell. I also learned how to budget my money. Saving money is very important for the main reason that when you need it you want to have it.”
Grace Place also has 11 students actively involved in mentoring relationships, which allows for more individualized attention and discipleship. Three families are being mentored in gaining the needed skills to maneuver successfully through the financial, parenting, relationship and employment challenges they face, Coldren added.
Through the years Grace Place has received many achievements. It all started in 2006 when the issue of trafficking hit close to home for Elizabeth. The news reported a raid on a brothel. Shockingly, the brothel was not in an overseas country; it was two blocks away from her house. In 2011, research was done into the sexual exploitation of minors nationally and in Broward County revealing the need for prevention and restoration. One year later, Grace Place School was incorporated and a Board of Directors was selected. In 2015, Grace Place School received its status as a 501C3 non-profit organization. Last year, Grace Place School was awarded recognition and certification from the Ministry Ventures program, which guided them in the necessary areas for building and maintaining a successful nonprofit ministry.
Coldren said, “In 2016, Grace Place hopes God will provide the resources needed for us to operate as a year-round day school, starting with an enrollment of 10 students at one time and growing to 20 students enrolled concurrently in 2017. The project will require hiring and training additional staff for teaching, mentoring, and coaching the teens in our programs. We have been operating out of Grace Point Church in Oakland Park since summer 2013 due to their generosity and heart to reach the community for Christ. However, we are now looking for a more permanent, larger location for our expanded day school. Once we have established the day school and have created “best practices,” our vision is to replicate similar programs throughout Broward County, but always keeping enrollment small at any one location.”
When Grace Place expands they’ll offer: a full middle school and high School curriculum, a credit recovery program, GED preparation and completion, job skills, work experience, coaching, entrepreneurship and development of micro-businesses, creative arts, equestrian therapy, therapeutic individual, family interventions, and mentorship.
Their target population is 13-18 year-old youth who are deemed high risk and are experiencing mounting academic, personal and social challenges. As Grace Place expands, they’ll add programs for 11 and 12 year olds.
The goal of Grace Place School is to reach deeply into a few individual lives, rather than having a surface relationship with many. Therefore, they cap the number of students for each program at 20 students. This allows for individualized attention, investment, and discipleship.
In 2015, Grace Place served a total of 41 students, operating as an after-school and summer program. Of the 41 students, 18 students were repeat participants in our programs. This is a desirable and positive indicator of progress, as it gives us greater advantage for impact.
Randeyza, age 15, relayed, “I had a beautiful experience at Grace Place School. It taught me how to grow up and mature. This is a wonderful school and I want to say thank you. I learned some very creative things like cooking, art, filmmaking and much more. Thank you to our volunteers for taking the time to come and help us when they didn’t have to. I learned how to pray and worship God in a better way. I learned how to control my anger and how to get along with others.”
To learn more, visit graceplaceschool.org.
Gabriella Morris is a home school student and writer at Good News. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.