JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — For many people attending school or going to work, if they are in need of something to wear, they, or their parents, will likely go out and buy it. However, that’s not always an option for everyone.
That's a reality Mary Warner is working to change for young women at the PACE Center for Girls in Jacksonville. That's why she was named a winner in First Coast News' '12 Who Care' nominations.
PACE Center for Girls is a unique school for young women who have experienced trauma, abuse or other difficult circumstances in their life. According to PACE, their program model addresses the needs of girls and has garnered recognition nationally as one of the most effective programs in the country for keeping girls from entering the juvenile justice system.
For years, the girls who attend PACE have had the opportunity to pick out new clothes, shoes and accessories from donations from the public, but the clothes were kept in black trash bags and were spread out on tables in the cafeteria or in a classroom.
When the girls would have the opportunity to sort through some of the donations, they would set their items aside in chairs.
When Warner heard about the need for PACE to find someone who could take on the responsibility of overseeing the donations, she signed up. She immediately wanted to change and upgrade the system.
She says she had a vision to change the entire "shopping" experience for the girls, and as of this year, her vision has become a reality. A corner room inside of PACE is now a completely remodeled boutique, called "Mrs. Mary's Boutique".
"This room is the result of an 18-year dream and can compare to any boutique in the world," said Warner. "The girls love it."
From creative displays to fancy jewelry and a diverse assortment of clothes and accessories, everything looks top-notch in her boutique.
"It was a dream to have a place where we could set up and not have to tear down every time," she said.
Warner says even the shopping bags, which used to be Public grocery sacks, are upgraded now to actual shopping bags from designer stores like Tommy Bahamas, Stein Mart, Anne Taylor or Abercrombie and Fitch. She says that allows the girls to bring home their new clothes in style.
The girls are rewarded with points for good behavior throughout the year, which they get to use like money in the boutique when it opens every other month for two days, so it works as an incentive program.
Tami Garrett, the Development Director at PACE, is the person who nominated Warner for 12 Who Care.
"With the boutique, they have the opportunity to wear different outfits to school," said Garrett. "[Mary] just has the biggest heart and pours her heart out at PACE each and every day."
It’s easy for anyone to notice that it’s not just the delicately folded clothes or the nicely hung belts and scarves that make the difference, it’s Warner's message behind it all, which is a message of love and support to all of the young women.
"I think every girl is entitled to a good life," said Warner.
She will be 84-years-old soon and she has no intention of slowing down, because even as she turns out the lights and locks the door back up for the day, the work is far from over.
PACE is always accepting donations for the boutique, from brand new to gently used items, from prom dresses or shoes, jewelry or purses, they are always updating the boutique and invite the public to find out more if they are interested.