Guest Post by Adrienne Drew, External Relations Manager.
It was a rainy day at Camp E-Nini-Hassee in mid-July, but that didn’t stop the girls at camp from singing their best songs for the guests visiting that day. The sounds of “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper and “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music filled the camp dining hall as the girls prepared for a special guest presentation. As their Director, Jo Lynn Smith, spoke to them she reminded the girls that all of the songs they sing have a purpose, and she told them all, “You are good, you are worthy, you all have a purpose!”
Jason Caras, Co-CEO of IT Authorities, Inc., an information technology and services company based in Tampa, Florida, visited camp E-Nini-Hassee to speak to over 30 girls currently residing there to also remind them they do all have a purpose. Jason lives a very successful life now after making the decision to turn it around at the age of 18, but throughout his life he struggled with substance abuse, multiple arrests, troubles in school and mental health issues. All of these issues are very relatable to the girls attending camp. E-Nini-Hassee is specifically designed for adolescent girls who are having emotional or behavioral difficulties. One of the goals of camp is to help the girls fully realize the potential that already exists with them.
As Jason spoke to the girls about his past struggles, he provided them with steps to transform their lives and gave them tips and tricks they could use to take their life to another and better degree!
I had the pleasure of meeting two of the youth, Kristen and Makayla. Makayla has been a resident of E-Nini-Hassee for the past 14 months and Kristen is an alumna of the program who was visiting for the day.
It was clear as I was sitting next to Kristen during the program she had been missed very much since she graduated from the program in April, 2015. Teachers and students alike were coming up to Kristen from every direction to share stories, hugs and welcome her back. Kristen who is now 19 years old, spent nine months at E-Nini-Hassee to receive assistance with her emotional problems, substance abuse and coping skills.
Kristen told me, “Visiting here is like coming back to my family, and everyone makes me feel like I’m at home.”
After hearing Jason speak, Kristen shared with me that so much of his story was very relatable to not only things she had experienced in her own life, but also the teachings she learned while at E-Nini-Hassee.
Kristen said, “When I was at camp, I was broken. Now I have finished my first year at Eckerd College, I have the best relationship I have ever had with my mom, and I have a great passion for music!” Kristen says she would tell other youth in need of help that, “You may be struggling now, but the outcome will be worth it, if you put in the effort.”
After speaking with Kristen, I had the chance to sit down with Makayla who has been at camp for the past 14 months. Makayla actually learned about camp from another alumna and is being treated at camp for anxiety and issues surrounding her family relationships, as well as her own self-confidence. As she began to talk to me, she seemed to exert confidence and was very well spoken. I could truly see how the program was helping to meet her goals.
Makayla told me she really enjoyed hearing Jason speak because his speech was so inspiring. She said, “His story is really applicable to my life!” Makayla also went on to tell me that her favorite part of Jason’s speech and the nugget she took away was his 212 degree rule, which means to basically always do one degree more and to do better, then it will lead you to success.
Makayla will be graduating from E-Nini-Hassee soon and has already gotten a year ahead in her schooling. She still continues to struggle with being motivated, but she told me she is keeping her eye on the prize! For other girls who may be struggling, Makayla said, “If you want something then go get it. It might not be easy, but camp helped me and I know it can help others!”
E-Nini-Hassee was founded in 1969 by Jack and Ruth Eckerd as the first outdoor therapeutic program for troubled girls in the southeast. Today, it remains the most established and trusted outdoor therapeutic school for girls in all of the southeastern United States. It is also consistently identified as one of the most effective programs of its kind. For more information on E-Nini-Hassee click here.