In 2008, Lawanda Ravoira left a Jacksonville, Fla.-based nonprofit for girls she helped build in order to lead the National Center for Girls and Young Women, a new organization with an eye on limiting the number of girls coming into the juvenile justice system and developing tailored programs for those girls who did enter.
It turns out, there was plenty to advocate against; what to advocate for was another thing.
Five years later, Ravoira has left the center to become the first executive director of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center, a nonprofit established last year with $50 million in funding from its namesake, a former owner of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
The center will be led through a partnership with The Children’s Campaign, a state advocacy group headed by Roy Miller.
The mission lands in the middle of her past ventures. Ravoira was CEO of the PACE Center for Girls in Jacksonville for 14 years, developing it into a successful prevention model to keep girls out of the system.
Still, Duval County locks up more girls than any other place in Florida. The goal of the Weaver Center is to take that situation, and turn it into a national model worth advocating for.
Chronicle: What is the gist, what will make Delores Barr Weaver Center successful?
Ravoira: “The goal is to make Duval County the model on how to respond to girls and young women. What I learned from advocating nationally over the decade is that there are no communities effectively responding. In fact, we’re seeing the movement across the country taking steps backward. The Iowa Task Force for Girls, the Florida Task Force, others, are disappearing.
So with all the the work we’re doing on the national level…in community after community, girls are ending up in the deep end.”
Chronicle: Alright, how do you get there?
Ravoira: “We’re taking the best we know in terms of training and doing it with police, lawyers, all the way through to providers and foster parents. We’re developing model programs. We already have Girl Matters, and will develop detention diversion, court diversion, training probation officers and aligning advocacy and policy.”
Chronicle: PACE has been around for some time, and Duval is still locking up more girls than any other Florida County.
Ravoira: “We convened a leadership council here on girls, which has been working with me since 2007 to…make this a priority. Dolores Barr Weaver [who is on the leadership council] has given it a voice, and me the autonomy to make people uncomfortable. The people on the council have the bandwith to move the agenda locally and statewide.”
Chronicle: The leader of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, Wansley Walters, is a woman. Do you view that as an advantage, have you met with her yet?
Ravoira: “I think Wansley is doing a lot of things right, in terms of a focus on diversion and civil citations. I have not met with her yet since coming to the center. It’s certainly on my agenda.
One of our first conversations will be that the roadmap [produced recently by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice] doesn’t talk about girls. It doesn’t mention gender, female, or girls in this roadmap. Certainly the roadmap’s strategies will impact girls in positive way, but we need to recognize disparate treatment.”
Chronicle: I asked you five years ago in an interview when you started at the National Center whether girls were the fastest growing population…you said yes. Is that still the case?
Ravoira: “Juvenile crime is declining across the board. But the decline for girls is significantly less dramatic than it is for boys. Girls are being arrested, violated for probation, and detained, for far less serious offenses than boys.”
Chronicle: You spent quite a bit of time during the past two years conducting listening sessions around the country and then sifting through all the info from them. How did that experience change your views, if at all?
Ravoira: “It was a turning point for me. As we conducted them, regardless of rural, tribal, inner city, the theme was that people still are grappling with what we can do. In community after community, there isn’t a groundswell to create change and really invest in girls in the community.
I had to step back, look at my own community, and say, this is happening in my backyard. Where is the model for doing this right? I was asked this everywhere I went for listening sessions, and it was really saddening and sobering to say, ‘we really can’t tell you.’”