The girls who come to E-Nini-Hassee arrive there for various reasons but they all leave stronger. Some may have a history of self-harm, some may struggle with mental health symptoms, and some may struggle with drug or alcohol use. Yet they leave with the strength that inspires them to overcome their challenges and become leaders. I recently watched the story of 17-year-old Natalie Warne and her role in the Invisible Children campaign. For those of you who do not know her, this teen produced award-winning international human rights awareness campaigns that landed her a lobbying role in DC, a TED Talk on engaging youth in social justice, and two TEDx Talks that have been viewed over a million times. Natalie shared her history of being severely bullied, and how seeing the 25-year war of kidnapped child soldiers in Central Africa inspired her to join a movement to pass a law to free these children. The story is the shift from victim to hero. That transformation, is one that creates a leader. Natalie says in her Ted Talk, “Anonymous extraordinaries are people who work selflessly and vigorously for what they believe in. People who are motivated by conviction and not recognition.”
The staff at Eckerd Connects E-Nini-Hassee are my anonymous extraordinaries who work to inspire girls like Natalie to go out and change their world for the better. They expose each girl to mindful challenges that build confidence. Whether it is solving a math problem to building a structure at the campsite, the staff is there to inspire. When they are teaching, they are walking along side these girls, modeling what it means to be motivated by conviction and passion. They teach empathy and gratitude, because strong leaders care about those around them. Empathy at camp, can be sitting with a fellow camper as she works through her anxiety, encouraging her to breathe and overcome it. Gratitude is a daily exercise, that shifts the focus from the hopelessness to hopefulness. Some of the campers have returned to work at camp as they are motivated to pay it forward. Some take this experience and inspire their families, friends, and future co-workers. This is how the world changes, this is how the next generation carries the good from the one before and strives to make a better world. A world where 17-year-old girls are motivated to work tirelessly to help end a 25-year-old war across an ocean. I believe Natalie was not defined by being bullied, but she took a bad experience and became passionate about helping someone else who was suffering. I see this same potential for any at risk girl who comes to E-Nini-Hassee, they are not defined by what brought them there, they are defined by who they become despite their past.