If you come tour the trails at Eckerd Connects E-Nini-Hassee, you just may hear the wonderful chorus of the girls singing their favorite camp songs. Girls ages 12-18 sing together every day and many of the teacher/counselors or “Chiefs” are talented musicians. One of the creators of the Eckerd outdoor camp model was Buford “Chief Mac” McKenzie. He studied music and ministry when he left Mississippi for Dallas as a young man. He would take his love for music and share it as part of building many Eckerd camps throughout his career.
Each table in the camp dining hall has a book that is filled with songs and their lyrics. New campers can use the books to help learn the words and notes to songs when they first arrive at camp. The songs are a mix of traditional camp songs like “Lean on Me” and more modern songs like “Free Fallin” by Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne. When the girls finish their meals, the Chiefs will ask a girl to pick a song. You will hear their voices rise through the dining hall as the girls clear the tables and get ready to move out to their next activity.
There is a piano and a wall of guitars in the dining hall. Current campers and Chiefs can play music for everyone during “party” day and holiday performances. Chief Chelsea and Chief Sharon teach the girls to read music. When the girls take their “siesta” or break time in the afternoon, you can hear Chief Claire gently singing to them while playing her guitar softly as they write letters, do homework, or take a short rest.
Music is a constant at Eckerd Connects E-Nini-Hassee. It is the tie that binds the girls together through good times and hard times. The singer/songwriter Jewel once said, “Some people think music education is a privilege, but I think it's essential to being human.” There are so many wonderful things about the magic that happens at Eckerd Connects E-Nini-Hassee. The program uses evidence based treatment, has a wonderful multidisciplinary team, 840 acres of woodlands…but the music is a daily part of what helps the girls grow. It is a wonderful part of visiting the camp to hear the girls sing, and it a wonderful memory that each girl can take with her. A few notes of her favorite camp song and she can bring back warm memories of her friends, the staff that loves her, and her journey to recovery.