Sometimes to know where we are we must look back at where we came from. June 3rd marks the 50th Anniversary of E-Nini-Hassee. This is the day Chief Jack Eckerd opened the first girls' outdoor therapeutic program in Florida. He hired the newlywed team of Chiefs Helen and Everett Lindstrom to open the first all-girls wilderness camp in Florida. Since that day 10,000+ girls have walked the trails at camp and completed the program. I was recently able to get in touch with Chief Helen, who is still enjoying her memories of camp and all that it meant to her and her husband to open such a place. When they arrived in Florida, they came to 840 acres of land that was phosphate farm. It was March of 1969 and they would have only 5 months until the first campers would arrive.
Chief Jack Eckerd hired a team that would go on to influence generations of staff and girls who still come back to support the place that forever changed their lives for the better. It is now a beautiful piece of property teaming with trails and trees touched by the love of past and current campers and staff. Some of the current staff worked directly with Chiefs Jack and Ruth Eckerd and share the stories of when they would visit the girls at E-Nini-Hassee. A photo of Chiefs Jack and Ruth walking the trails hangs in the front entrance of the main building. It greets families and referral sources when they first arrive.
E-Nini-Hassee, an accredited Florida school, has educated girls, helped them work on career goals and go on to achieve their dreams. That magic is teamwork under the leadership of Chief Jo Lynn Smith and countless others who have led the girls through the program. I often hear them quote Chief Jack and say, “it is all about the kids.” I believe Chief Jack was a visionary in mental health, knowing that kids who struggle need to strip away the distraction to heal. He created that place and found talented staff to keep the kids safe while they complete the journey to recovery. In the years that he opened the camp, this model endures, and is kept alive by a hardworking and loving therapeutic team.