When I entered E-Nini-Hassee at age 14, I had low self esteem, problems with parents and peers, depression, suicidal thoughts and a history of sneaking out with the neighborhood boys. At the time, I didn’t believe my issues were as “bad” as some girls, but I definitely was headed down the wrong road fast. I remember walking into the main building and thinking my parents had found a new and legal way to “torture” me. There would be no access to television or telephones, no makeup or fashionable clothing, no boys for miles…I had never gotten along very well for any extended period of time with other girls and I far preferred the company of boys. I learned that I would be living with about 10 other girls and two adult female counselors, and we were going to be sharing our sleeping quarters as well as our deepest issues. I remember thinking that this was the very definition of hell. I did not appreciate E-Nini-Hassee then as I do now. It was a long hard road for someone as stubborn as I was. I spent a good majority of the time rolling my eyes or pursing my lips thinking everyone else was crazy and that I was, clearly, the only one who ‘had it together.’ The rest of the group would often glare at me because I was holding everyone up from other activities while I was being difficult. E-Nini-Hassee challenged me, mentally and physically, in ways I never could have imagined. I was completely unprepared for the physical challenges. But by the time I graduated, I found muscles and an inner strength that I never knew I had. Prior to going there, if someone would have told me that at the age of 14 I would be manually sawing down large pine trees, carrying them back to the campsite and cleaning them by hand, and fitting them all together to make a tent to live in, I would’ve said they should be committed. But I did it. I also successfully completed an incredible ropes course. Strength wasn’t the only test during my stay — so was endurance. As part of the Ehecetvs group, I went on a seven-day river trip on the Peace River, a 14-day river trip on the Withlacoochee, and a 21-day backpack trip through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. Each trip gave ample opportunity for huge amounts of growth for each of our group’s members. I have countless memories from those experiences, from a renewed sense of camaraderie in our group to how much we all smelled by the time we got back. I remember early morning walks up to the dining hall for breakfast. On our way, we would pass the clearing in the woods. Many mornings in this spot there would be several deer grazing in the dewy grass, and I would hope that our meanderings wouldn’t scare them away so we could look at them a little longer. I remember Chief Yvonne singing to us at the center of all our tents. I had never heard someone simultaneously sing and play the guitar at the same time before… when she played for us, it was often the last thing we heard as we drifted off to sleep for the night. Her rendition of Time in a Bottle, among many other classics, was one of the most soothing things I had ever heard and it remains one of my fondest memories of camp. I would develop a unique relationship with each of my Chiefs during my stay. Chief Terri was the first to show me that it is okay, and even preferable, to learn to laugh at yourself. Her love and kindness is something that I have never forgotten, along with our long talks and her mile-wide smile. Chief Caroline, Chief Jennie, Chief Alicia, Chief Gale and Chief Jo showed me the importance of accepting constructive criticism the same as I would accept compliments. Today, I am still the same stubborn person I was when I went to camp. But today, I am older and wiser and I forever carry with me the lessons that I learned at E-Nini-Hassee. They have seen me through some incredibly difficult times.
I often find myself thinking that if everyone had gone to E-Nini-Hassee then things would go a lot more smoothly in everyday life, but that was not always my attitude. I came to E-Nini-Hassee with a bad attitude. I remember my initial visit to camp and thinking, “I am so NOT going here.” I walked the trails and saw girls covered in sap and skinning the bark off of trees. They were building tents to sleep in! I thought, “Oh no, not me, forget this!” They sang in dining hall while we were in the office and I thought, “This is a joke, right? They think I’m coming here to do manual labor and sing Kumbaya!?”….. As it turned out, those trees gave me a great sense of accomplishment that translated into confidence and self worth; those songs still bring comfort to me today.
E-Nini-Hassee gave me memories and tools that I will hold near, always. I made bonds with my chiefs and fellow campers that have lasted through years and miles. I spent 12 days with them backpacking the Florida Trail, 21 days canoeing with them on the Withlacoochee / Suwannee Rivers, twice. I spent hours upon hours sitting down discussing problems or standing in huddles with them that let each of us know that, good or bad, we were all in it together.
While I was at E-Nini-Hassee, my best friend died in a car accident. My chiefs and my fellow campers were so important in my grieving process. They helped me cope and make sense out of a situation that made no sense. I am so thankful I was at E-Nini-Hassee through that time because not only did it give me a safe and therapeutic place to grieve and heal, it probably saved my life. I would love to say that I wouldn’t have made the choice to get in the car with her the night she died, however, in reality, I probably would’ve been in the car with her. E-Nini-Hassee gave me the tools and helped build my self-esteem, enabling me to make better decisions in the future.
After I left E-Nini-Hassee, I went back into public school with a better understanding of who I was, what I wanted, and how to achieve the goals I meant to achieve. I was no longer struggling with time management or social awkwardness. I cannot say I did not struggle at all — I did. But the skills I took home from E-Nini-Hassee helped me identify, cope with, and ultimately overcome any struggles or problems I had with my studies or personal life. I still employ those problem solving skills on a daily basis. It also made me aware that there is nothing wrong with me and there is nothing I cannot overcome if I commit myself to finding a way.
I was 15 when I came to E-Nini-Hassee. The world was an angry and apathetic place for me at that time. While there, I was encouraged to express my feelings in healthy ways and to meet my needs with healthy behaviors. I learned about who I was and why I felt the way I did. Most importantly, I learned to communicate in an age-appropriate manner that was respectful and would be well-received. Communication was probably the skill I learned there that has proven most valuable to me. Learning how to speak to others in a way that is well-received has opened many doors for me. My outlook on the world and life in general has changed dramatically since then.
I am now 32. I have two children, I truly love being a mother. E-Nini-Hassee simply works! It teaches leadership, teamwork, confidence, integrity, respect, problem solving and responsibility. It gives you a sense of accomplishment. It builds self-esteem. It gives you a foundation to build a better tomorrow.