Two girls hanging out and a McDonalds sign

The North Florida/Southern Georgia McDonald’s Operators Association has named Gainesville’s Pace Center for Girls one of four recipients of the inaugural Golden Grants.

The Pace Center serves at-risk girls through education, counseling, and training. The Gainesville location has served more than 1,500 girls since opening in 1998, according to the website.

"We are so grateful for this award, especially during such challenging times in the world," said Natalya Bannister, executive director of Gainesville's Pace Center. "Being awarded the grant makes our girls feel seen. It sends a powerful message to them—that they are a priority."

The McDonald’s association announced the Golden Grants program last November to recognize outstanding schools and community organizations. Local franchisees in the region funded the $15,000 program “to celebrate educators and programs dedicated to enriching the lives of area youth,” according to an association press release.

Among some 100 applicants, a committee chose two for $5,000 grants, including PACE Center for Girls and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in Jacksonville. The committee recognized PACE for “Reading is Fundamental,” an intensive reading program led by a certified reading specialist and aimed at a variety of skill levels.

Bannister said the $5,000 grant will go to further support the organization's reading program. She said improved reading skills are a catalyst for bigger progress. 

"Many of our girls come to Pace reading below grade level, and though they are incredibly bright, need additional support to improve their reading skills," Bannister said. "If they improve their capacity to read, it will improve achievement in all of their classes subjects and improve their overall confidence academically."

The other two Golden Grants, both for $2,500, went to the FSU High School track team in Tallahassee and Folkston Elementary STEM Bins in Charlton County, Georgia.

“We are so honored to give back to these amazing, impactful teachers and organizations,” said Calvin Paris, a McDonald’s franchisee in Gainesville. “They are most appreciated and we are excited to help them in their efforts of making a difference in their students’ lives.”

Grant recipients can use the grants for COVID-19 relief efforts, technology support, tutoring, mentorship, and more, according to an association press release: “The grants intend to help these leaders to continue to fuel the minds of our future generations.”

The Golden Grants committee made award decisions based on creativity, innovation and community needs. It will begin accepting applications for 2021 grants in October.

Publisher for Mainstreet Daily News

J.C. Derrick is publisher for Mainstreet Daily News. He spent 18 years covering sports, education, and politics in Texas and Washington, D.C., before joining Mainstreet in 2020.

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