What first brought you to Eckerd Connects E-Nini-Hassee?
Answer: I was a young college graduate and debating on the Peace Corp, AmeriCorps, or several overseas jobs. I grew up in a military family, so we were always moving and always helping others wherever we were. My parents had instilled in me the responsibility of always giving back- The ad in the paper for a youth counselor matched with the adventure piece I was looking for. When I talked to the Eckerd Recruiter, I still remember her- Jackie Timmons- who had been a youth counselor, I was even more interested. I drove down to Florida for a 3-day interview. It was January and cold. It was, at that time, the hardest 3 days of my life- but, I was hooked. It was like being in another world and I was blown away that so many young girls had so many struggles- they had very hard lives, yet they were hopeful for the future. I really had only read about girls like this in books- I wanted to be a part of it- I wanted to make a difference.
How has the camp changed over the years? How has it stayed the same?
Answer: I have worked with some of the most amazing kids, staff, parents, and supporters over many years- that has never changed. I had the honor of getting to witness, first hand, Mr. and Mrs. Eckerd’s vision- the passion, the love, and the sacrifices they made- that spirit hasn’t changed. While the girls today look different and may have different issues- at the core, they are still the same girl that was here 35 years ago. Lost- trying to figure out who they really are- following the culture, the latest fad. Their belief system being made up of half-truths, lies- the stories they tell themselves, become truth. That has not changed. The mission and culture of the camp is still the same- Magic happens here.
As with anything, the changes are mostly dictated from the outside- everyone wants an easy, quick fix- that’s just not possible. Everyone has a better way to do something- treat something- and again, that is not who we are- we are not a drive by treatment program. So, the stress of having government, agencies, and administrations dictate what is best for this population is at best, frustrating.
10,000 girls and countless chiefs have passed through E-Nini-Hassee, what impact do you hope they remember most about their time there?
Answer: That they are loved and worthy. I pray we have instilled in the them the strength and courage to carry on. Life will continue, and there will be many ups and downs, I pray we have provided an inner voice that says “carry on”- get focused- you know how to do hard things- help someone along the way- break the cycle- persevere- You were uniquely designed for a purpose of good.
For those parents who struggle raising adolescent girls, and as a mom yourself, what is your advice to them?
Answer: You are not alone. There are chapters in a girl’s life- this is one of them. Regardless of how much you love your child, all the things you have done right- you are fighting against the world- and they will take your child in a second. Even more so these days. Young girls get so many messages- there is always someone, something- right around the corner ready to snatch them up- Do not associate her behavior now, with her love for you, or the rest of the family. Get help for your child. Take a step back and see what you might need to take responsibility for.
You have worked with a lot of E-Nini-Hassee parents as well, what do you hope the parents take away from the experience with camp?
Answer: I pray we are able to give them their daughter back- the child they held in their arms. I pray the parents that needed to refocus their parenting, did so. I pray parents now know when to hold tight and when to let go. I hope parents also know- they are not alone. Most people are doing the best they can with the information they have at the time.
E-Nini-Hassee practices gratitude, what are you currently grateful for (this moment)?
Answer: At this moment- I can hear a group outside my door playing a group game- I can hear them laughing, clapping, and encouraging one another- this always makes me smile- I am grateful for sound of kids playing.
I am grateful that this morning I sent a random text to an ex- camper, just letting her know I was thinking of her- surprisingly she is going in today for a complicated surgery- it was a God Wink.
I am grateful at this moment for all the incredibly selfless staff I work with- they make sacrifices every day for these girls.