Finding Grace
August 15th, 2015 by Liesel Schmidt

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A staff member instructs one of the girls at Marvelous Grace Girls Academy in Pace.

Boarding school offers girls a place of healing and hope

Steven Blankenship was a young minister with a regular revival circuit in juvenile justice facilities in North Carolina when he married Tanya in 1995. The couple became a dynamic team, offering spiritual guidance to the young men and women they met, hoping seeds they planted would grow long after they were gone.

Turns out the seeds also grew in the Blankenships. Inspired by the results, they opened their lives to a bigger calling: a boarding school for troubled teens.

Nearly 100 young lives have been touched in the seven years since the couple founded Marvelous Grace Girls Academy in the Florida Panhandle town of Pace. That step of faith was prompted by
the Blankenships’ earlier work in North Carolina leading worship music, preaching and offering Bible verses that guided young offenders with specific struggles.

“We’d seen what the Lord could do when they really grasped the concept of forgiveness, realizing that they could be forgiven and that they could forgive themselves as well,” Steven says, noting
hearts opened, faith grew and lives were saved. “We always had a desire to help these juveniles on a larger scale, but most of the time we never saw these kids again. We wanted to do something in a long-term way with these troubled teenagers.”

For Steven, it was a modern-day analogy of Jesus feeding the 5,000—turning a few loaves and fishes into more than enough food to fill the bellies of the hungry crowd, with leftovers so plentiful barrels could not contain them all.

“The fragments were gathered so that none would be lost,” Steven says. “When I read that passage in John 6, the Lord spoke to my heart, convicting me that now was the time to gather the fragments—the damaged teenagers that I had been teaching and preaching to—and show them that they could gather the fragments of their lives.”

For Steven, that meant founding the boarding school.

With nearly 20 years of ministry under his belt and Tanya’s degree in childhood development, the Blankenships felt prepared to tackle the new mission.

“I had been around different ministries—boarding schools and children’s homes—and I knew what they had been able to accomplish,” Steven says. “We started praying and seeking advice, and
then we found a piece of property in Pace. It was 4 acres, with buildings from a ministry that had operated there three years prior.”

It would house Steven, Tanya, their then-5-year-old son Stonewall, a small academic staff and 30 students who would live there full time for three months to a year, depending on their particular needs.

The Blankenships had not yet begun the application process when Steven received an email that changed the direction he thought he was headed.

“I had announced to some churches that I was making plans for a children’s ministry, but I had always thought it would be a boys’ academy because I have a son,” he recalls. “One day I received an email from a family who was looking for help for their daughters. I felt that God was leading us to work with girls.”

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Some of the girls from the Marvelous Grace Girls Academy in Pace mug for the camera.

Marvelous Grace Girls Academy was born, offering the girls “a place of healing and hope, where they would be given spiritual, emotional and educational guidance to become whole and healthy
once again,” Steven says.

“These are troubled girls,” Steven says. “They’re defiant and rebellious, and some of them are runaways or have problems with substance abuse. When we get a call, we’re usually a last resort. Their parents have tried other programs, tried professional counseling or medication. The parents who call us feel that their daughter is in danger of self-destruction or getting involved with the wrong people.”

The girls are given a welcome that shows how much they are loved by their parents and God, Steven says.

“None of these girls are orphans or unwanted children,” he explains. “They’re all wanted and loved, and that’s why they’re here. Their parents love them too much to see them self-destruct.”

Steven says the growth he has witnessed in the girls has been uplifting.

“I’m amazed by the hopefulness that I’ve seen in these young ladies, the hope they’ve found in their future after being here, and it’s strengthened my faith and my marriage,” Steven says. “We show them that they’re created for a purpose, that there’s more to live for than just now.”

That awakening takes time.

“We see these girls and young ladies come in with such fragmented lives, and they’re transformed,” Steven says. “They learn to trust in Christ as their Savior, they learn love for themselves and for one another. They learn about grace and forgiveness—and you can see those changes in their behavior, in the way they treat themselves and the way they treat others.

“When they get here, we tell them three things: that God loves them; that this is the opportunity for a fresh start, a way to heal the past; and that there is help for the present and a hope for the future.”

For more information about Marvelous Grace
Girls Academy, visit www.mgga.us or call (850)
995-7006.