A Proud History of Providing Second Chances

Founded in 1968, Eckerd Kids 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 Eckerd Kids to operate the state’s first private juvenile justice program. Soon after, Eckerd Kids added a transitional program for youth who successfully completed a residential juvenile justice program to its service offerings. Its service array was further expanded with the addition of youth violence prevention and character education services in elementary and middle schools, in addition to several evidence-based, community behavioral health and child welfare services.

Today, Eckerd Kids’ core service composition is no longer focused solely on residential programming. It is this depth and breadth of our work that sets us apart from most youth and family services providers across the country.

Our Founders – Jack and Ruth Eckerd

the eckerds

Jack and Ruth Eckerd

Jack and Ruth Eckerd, founders of Eckerd Kids, 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 that 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 Kids 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 Kids.



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


Started the Jack and Ruth Eckerd Foundation (the precursor to our organization today).


Opened the first outdoor therapeutic program for girls in the southeastern U.S.


Expanded residential services to North Carolina at the request of North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt.


Expanded services to New England.


Opened Florida’s first private juvenile justice residential program.


Launched juvenile justice aftercare services in Florida.


Organizational name change to Eckerd Family Youth Alternatives, Inc.


Launched school-based prevention services in Florida.


Organizational name change to Eckerd Youth Alternatives, Inc.


Expanded community-based juvenile justice services to Louisiana.


Expanded community-based juvenile justice services to Texas.


Became lead agency for community- based child welfare services in Florida’s Pinellas and Pasco counties.


Began first family preservation and parenting education services in North Carolina.


Expanded family preservation services to Iowa.


Partnered with North Carolina Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention on transitioning 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 became responsible for the safety, well-being and permanency of more than 5,000 of Tampa Bay’s most vulnerable children in Florida’s Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties.


Expanded child welfare services to Oklahoma.


Partnered with Florida Department of Juvenile Justice on transitioning community-based services to a new model called “Project Bridge.”


Eckerd Youth Alternatives and CARING announce their affiliation, bringing two nonprofits together.


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


Organizational rebranding to simply "Eckerd Kids."