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A success story

BRADENTON — Nancy Agustin-Pineda is 13, one of seven children being raised by a single mother and is an at-risk eighth-grader.

Yet in just a few minutes with a microphone at Thursday’s Just for Girls 2009 annual meeting and celebration luncheon at the Bradenton Country Club, the soft-spoken teenager personalized the Manatee County Girls Club Inc., now in its 40th year.

“She defines the very core of what we’re all about,” said Chief Executive Officer Becky Canesse.

Nancy, who attends Just for Girls’ Jane B. Pratt Alternative School, touched the luncheon that saluted volunteers and donors, and kicked off a fundraising campaign for a new facility to replace a 25-year-old building at 3809 59th St. W.

“I wasn’t comfortable at my last school, but I am comfortable here and it’s changed me a lot,” Nancy said afterward. “I never used to be able to concentrate at my old school. Now I get better grades. I pay more attention. I’m still focused on being better at everything.”

The alternative school is for girls who are at risk of dropping out, who have been suspended repeatedly at public school, but want to turn their lives around, Canesse said.

“We’re here to give these girls that last chance, help them learn to survive and succeed, equip them with skills they need to address what they’re going through,” she said. “They’re not bad girls. They had bad circumstances in their life.”

There are 648 girls in the organization’s three centers.

Nancy’s speech impressed the alternative school’s namesake, who is a former Just for Girls president and current foundation board member.

“Somebody is doing a marvelous job over there,” Pratt said. “I knew that anyway, but this reinforces that.”

Pastor Glen Evans, of Redeemed Christian Center, agreed.

“At 13, to have that ability to face a crowd, I could see she had gotten over the hump. She had made up her mind she wanted to be a success,” Evans said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055, or write him at Bradenton Herald, P.O. Box 921, Bradenton, FL 34206 or e-mail him at