Light danced across old pine trees under a vibrant, starry sky, while a great bonfire and its’ thousand embers left a night’s worth of ash and coal.
In honor of Thanksgiving, about 100 people gathered at E-Nini-Hassee to express their “gratefuls” during a community pow-wow, reflecting back onto a year’s worth of life lessons.
E-Nini-Hassee (ENH), or “camp” as the girls call it, is a therapeutic residence set in the wilderness where at-risk teenagers are taught life skills on 840 acres of land in Floral City.
Every Sunday before Thanksgiving, their alumni, crew and residents gather together for a special night they call Turkey-In-The-Hole, where turkeys are cooked in the ground, for something many describe as the best turkey they’ve ever tasted.
Some of the camp’s best-behaved girls got a chance to stay up all night, tending to the fire, taking turns adding wood, playing games, singing songs, watching movies under the stars, with an array of snacks to help keep them going through the night.
Samantha, an ENH camp resident, sat on a soft hill of mud-colored sand dug up for Turkey-In-The-Hole, then walked past the burning embers to throw another log in.
Before coming to camp, she was a good student, a gymnast with aspirations and dreams to continue as an athlete into college. Then she fell in love and found herself a victim of teen dating violence.
“I didn’t understand I was in an abusive relationship,” Samantha said. “I’ve learned how to cope with my trauma without substances, so that’s something I’m really grateful for.”
Samantha believes she has better communication with her family now, something she has learned with consistent practice of assertive communication while living at ENH with 12 other girls.
“I love taking it home with me,” Samantha said. “I feel at camp, I got a sense of purpose and meaning back my life. I feel more alive. I felt like I was wasting my life before camp.”
Megan, also a resident at E-Nini-Hassee who helped tend the Thanksgiving fire, was brought to camp 14 months ago. She was failing out of school, a habitual runaway, who had lost relationships. She got into heavier drugs, wasn’t able to manage her life. During home visits, she would run away, then survived a sexual assault, and was eventually transported back to E-Nini-Hassee by a private investigator.
“I had a lot of rough patches,” Megan said about living at ENH. “The first three months were a blur.”
Megan has been sober for almost a year, and said she’s had a complete transformation since coming to the camp. She has successful home visits now, is learning to cope with challenging relationships and is asked to give testimonies through public speaking, where she gets to share her message of hope.
“I was miserable with the life I was living,” Megan said. “That’s when I realized something had to change. It took awhile to build myself back up.”
Megan is about to graduate and has a scholarship for an outpatient program when she leaves. She says she knows her recovery and growth continues.
“I”m grateful for second chances, gaining healthy relationships, for unconditional love,” Megan said. “I really messed up and they accepted me with open arms.”
To view story at Citrus County Chronicle: http://www.chronicleonline.com/content/campers-grateful-second-chances