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Just for Girls in Bradenton to expand in 2012

BRADENTON -- Just for Girls Inc. is closing out an award-winning year with significant expansion plans in place, key executives said Monday.

“We’re an organization on the move,” Just for Girls President Shirley Foor said. “We’re here to celebrate the strength and the stability of our future.”

That future includes Phase II of the West Bradenton Center, which includes adding a building to house a computer learning lab and media center, library and more classroom space. The site on 59th Street West will serve Just for Girls Academy as well as the American Red Cross as a post-disaster shelter for displaced families.

More than 100 volunteers, board members and community leaders met Monday at the Bradenton Country Club for the non-profit group’s annual meeting. Chief Executive Officer Becky Canesse singled out dozens of women and men in the audience for their contributions to Just for Girls, established to educate middle-school girls who were failing to succeed in a traditional school setting.

“Each person here sets an example for our girls,” Canesse said. “Women in positions of influence and power show these girls that they can be what they want to be.”

She introduced Marimar Urieta-Morales, an eighth-grader at Just for Girls chosen as this year’s student speaker. Marimar had been struggling in school with grades and being bullied before her mother enrolled her in Just for Girls. The young girl spoke Monday of the confidence the all-girls’ classes have given her.

“Next year at Manatee High School I will be brave!” she told the audience. “I will not let anybody get in my way of my career goal -- being a detective.”

The Just for Girls foundation has launched a $3 million, three-year fund-raiser for the West Bradenton Center, Canesse said. In outlining the plans, she noted there has been a substantial increase in extremely low-income members in West Bradenton in the past several years.

In 2011, Just for Girls also was approved for a charter school. The Just for Girls Academy is slated to be open for the 2012-2013 school year.

Just for Girls was also honored in 2011 with two state awards for its roles in relocating the Palmetto Elementary School and for its public/private partnerships.