The First Outdoor Therapeutic School
for Girls in the Southeast
It was in 1969 when Jack and Ruth Eckerd formalized their desire to give troubled and at-risk girls a much-needed second chance by founding Eckerd Connects E-Nini-Hassee in Floral City, Florida. At the time, their goal was simple: provide a better treatment alternative for girls than the prevailing methods of hospitalization or institutionalization. Their vision was for every child to have the opportunity to succeed.
At E-Nini-Hassee, the Eckerds created a positive, strengths-based environment for girls to experience nurturing guidance, see adults role modeling appropriate behaviors, learn in an educational setting with passionate teachers and youth counselors, participate in therapeutic outdoor adventures and fully realize the potential that already exists within them.
At the time, this outdoor therapeutic approach for girls was so novel there were some who doubted it would work. Instead of restricting troubled girls to detention centers or hospital beds, the E-Nini-Hassee approach gave girls freedom to experience personal growth through high-interest, therapeutic recreational activities. As a remedy to anger and hostility, the E-Nini-Hassee approach advocated unconditional regard, nurturing, and support.
The skeptics were soon converted and E-Nini-Hassee gained the attention of government agencies and leaders throughout the country.
Today, E-Nini-Hassee remains the most established and trusted outdoor therapeutic school for girls in the southeastern United States, consistently identified as one of the most effective programs of its kind in the nation.
Although American society has changed much since the 1960’s, the proven principles upon which E-Nini-Hassee were founded have withstood the test of time. Since 1969, E-Nini-Hassee has given nearly 10,000 girls and their families a much-needed second chance at happiness and success.
The Eckerd's Always Put Their Pride into "the kids"
Eckerd Connects E-Nini-Hassee was founded in 1969 by philanthropists Jack and Ruth Eckerd. Born in 1913 in Wilmington, DC, Jack Eckerd is best known for revolutionizing the drugstore industry by introducing the concept of self-service to three failing Florida drugstores in 1952. He soon transformed those three floundering stores into Eckerd Drugs — one of the nation’s largest drugstore chains.
Ruth Eckerd was the youngest child of Florida banker Richard Binnicker and a 1941 Gasparilla Queen. She married Jack just six weeks after their first date. It was the second marriage for both. Together, they brought five children into the marriage and produced another two in a blended “yours, mine and ours” family. The Eckerd’s happiness and love for their own children, combined with a selfless desire to share their good fortune with others, is what first sparked their interest in helping children considered "at-risk" and the eventual opening of Eckerd E-Nini-Hassee in 1969.
When questioned about why he devoted himself to helping children, Jack would say that he believed society would generate the biggest return on investment by helping these children turn their lives around — a “lifetime of returns” for each child and family that was helped. Over the years, when asked what was most important to him, Jack would always say “the kids.” Despite his accomplishments in many different arenas, his love of helping children through difficult times remained his passion.
The Eckerds were well-known for their community leadership and generosity throughout the greater Tampa Bay area, but E-Nini-Hassee always had a special place in their hearts. In fact, when given the opportunity to celebrate his 90th birthday anywhere in the world, Jack chose to celebrate it with the girls and staff at E-Nini-Hassee.
Although Jack Eckerd passed away in 2004 and Ruth in 2006, their tremendous legacy lives on. Today, helping each child have the opportunity to succeed is still what is most important at E-Nini-Hassee. Of that legacy, Jack and Ruth Eckerd would be most proud.