Post by Adrienne Drew, External Relations Manager.
On September 24, Camp E-Nini-Hassee celebrated alumni weekend. Past campers from near and far attended, and as most of them said, “came back home”. Every 6 months to a year, the alumni plan events to get together and they make it their mission to personally give back and help the girls currently in camp.
Campers enjoyed the day relaxing by the pool with their families, having a delicious meal on the grill made by Chief Jo herself and had the chance to reconnect with their old friends, and make new ones.
Many stories were shared about our founders, Chief Jack and Ruth Eckerd, as the campers reminisced about their days spent at camp and visiting with the Eckerd’s at their home.
As one of the alumni said, “None of us ever wanted to be here in the beginning, but when it was time to graduate, we never wanted to leave! Camp is like coming home.”
I had the pleasure of speaking with many of the alumni as they shared their special memories with me and met with two of the alumni one-on-one who made it their mission to form the alumni board and give back to the girls currently in camp.
Stacy and Tracy who are both married now with kids met at camp in 1991 and immediately formed a special bond because they were both from Miami and shared similar reasons for coming into camp.
Both women suffered with abandonment issues in their early teens and camp made them feel more at home than anywhere else because of the unconditional love they received. They both were seeking out love and hugs that they didn’t have until they found Camp E-Nini-Hassee.
When I asked what them what it was like to know the Eckerd’s, both women’s faces lit up with excitement. They were so honored to have been able to spend time with them during their stay in camp and remember those days fondly.
Stacy shared with me what she loved most about Jack Eckerd was he was so personable. Stacy said, “He made everybody feel important when you needed it the most.” Stacy said she can remember sharing a special moment with Chief Jack on Clearwater Beach as he asked her if she had brushed her teeth. Even though young Stacy replied yes, Chief Jack knew the real answer. He then asked her to dip her hand into the ocean and get water to do it the right way so they would be squeaky clean. Stacy said, “I will never forget this moment I shared with him.”
Tracy also remembers the Eckerd’s fondly. She said every Christmas the campers were invited to their house. The girls would sing to them and they each were able to choose a gift that was $25 or less. She recalls Chief Jack and Ruth living on Clearwater Beach and having the girls over frequently for BBQs and other family meals.
Stacy and Tracy spent time in camp together from 1991 until 1993 when they both graduated, but even after camp they stayed close and they even lived together. The connection between them was undeniable and as the day went on it was easy to see as they finished each other sentences and continued to reminisce.
Shortly after I sat down with Stacy and Tracy another camper who had also attended during their same time period arrived by the name of Jennifer. This was the first time Jennifer was able to attend an alumni event, but she picked up right where she left off at camp and recognized her fellow campers immediately. She said, “It’s camp, it’s still the same, its home.”
Jennifer shared stories of visiting the Eckerd’s home and riding in their elevator, which she thought was so cool! When Jennifer was in camp, her senior counselor was Jo Lynn Smith who is now the Operations Director of Camp E-Nini-Hassee. Jennifer said, “Chief Jo was like a mom to me,” as she ran off to give her a big hug. Just like Stacy and Tracy, Jennifer also has kids of her own now and shared with me that she taught her own kids the songs she learned in camp. Jennifer said, “Whenever they are cleaning up the dishes, you can hear them start singing!”
As I watched the women interact it was evident they are a true support system for one another. They all expressed how they know no matter what may be happening in their life, they can always come back to camp because it is home.
Stacy has made it her personal mission to assemble the alumni board and help the girls currently in camp with the help of the other alumni. As events are planned for the alumni, they find ways to give back to the camp and encourage the girls. This can be through physical work on the property, donations or just being there as a friend and mentor.
On behalf of Camp E-Nini-Hassee and all the past and current campers, we hope this story inspires you to give back too!
For more information on Camp E-Nini-Hasee, please click here.