Our History

A Proud History of Providing Second Chances

Founded in 1968, Eckerd Connects is a pioneering youth services organization dedicated to helping kids succeed.

Our founders, Jack and Ruth Eckerd, envisioned a program to create healthy and successful alternatives to help children turn their lives around. What started as Florida’s first private boys’ wilderness therapy program quickly expanded to include the state’s first outdoor therapeutic program for girls in the southeastern United States.

By 1982, the state of Florida asked the organization to operate the state’s first private juvenile justice program. Soon after, the organization added a transitional program for youth who successfully completed a residential juvenile justice program to its service offerings.

Our Founders – Jack and Ruth Eckerd

Jack and Ruth Eckerd, founders of Eckerd Connects had tremendous vision, leadership and commitment to creating an organization that guides vulnerable youth to a better path in life. Their philosophy was that every child is valuable and a treasure in this world, and that each child deserves a chance to succeed. Despite accomplishments in many different arenas, Jack and Ruth’s love of helping vulnerable and troubled children remained their passion throughout their lives. When questioned about why he was so passionate about youth development and child advocacy, Jack would almost always say:

“Society would generate its biggest return on investment by helping troubled and vulnerable children turn their lives around — a “lifetime of returns” for each child and family that was helped.”

Although Eckerd Connects has grown and transformed since Jack Eckerd passed away in 2004 and Ruth shortly thereafter, one thing remains constant — our commitment to their vision that every child should have the opportunity to succeed. Of that legacy, Jack and Ruth would be most proud.

Other Eckerd Organizations

Several other entities and organizations bear the Eckerd name, including the Eckerd Family Foundation, Ruth Eckerd Hall and Eckerd College. Each represent Jack and Ruth Eckerd’s legacy, but none are so closely tied to providing direct care and services to vulnerable youth and their families as Eckerd Connects.



Jack and Ruth Eckerd opened Florida's first outdoor therapeutic program for boys.


The Jack and Ruth Eckerd Foundation is officially formed.


Following the growing popularity of the boys’ program, the Eckerds open a therapeutic program for girls—the first in the southeastern United States.


Taking note of the program’s success, Governor Jim Hunt asks the Eckerds to expand their residential services to North Carolina.


Residential services expand to New England, the beginning of our organization's growing national impact.


Inspired by the change taking place in the lives of youth attending the residential programs, we opened our first juvenile justice program.


The organization changes its name to Eckerd Family Youth Alternatives and launches juvenile justice after-care services in Florida.


Recognizing the need for proactive help in addition to recovery, the organization begins school-based prevention services in Florida.


The organization becomes Eckerd Youth Alternatives, Inc.


The organization expands its community-based juvenile justice services to Louisiana.


The organization expands its community-based juvenile justice services to Texas.


Eckerd Youth Alternatives becomes the lead agency for community- based child welfare services in Florida’s Pinellas and Pasco counties.


Committed to strengthening healthy families, the organization begins first family preservation and parenting education services in North Carolina.


The organization expands family preservation services to Iowa.


Eckerd Youth Alternatives partners with North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to transition a wilderness camping model to new short-term juvenile justice residential services for youth.


By winning the community-based child welfare lead agency contract in Florida’s Hillsborough County, Eckerd Community Alternatives becomes responsible for the safety, well-being and permanency of more than 5,000 of Tampa Bay’s most vulnerable children in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.


The organization expands child welfare services to Oklahoma.


Eckerd Youth Alternatives partners with Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to transition community-based services to a new model called “Project Bridge.”


Eckerd Youth Alternatives and CARING for Children announce their affiliation, a powerful merging of two nonprofits in North Carolina.


Eckerd Youth Alternatives and Paxen announce their affiliation, expanding the organization's reach to a total of eleven states plus Washington, D.C.


The organization changes its name to “Eckerd Kids” to reflect its commitment to caring for young people.


With an expanding list of service areas, the organization rebrands to “Eckerd Connects." The name change reflects the organization’s commitment to helping people in the areas they need it most: child welfare, workforce development, and juvenile justice.