Eckerd’s History

A Proud History of Providing Second Chances

Founded in 1968, Eckerd is a pioneering youth services organization dedicated to helping kids succeed. Through a full continuum of life-changing behavioral health and child welfare services nationwide, we’ve given much-needed second chances to nearly 150,000 children and families. Today, Eckerd is one of the nation’s leading not-for-profit providers of services for youth at risk, and their families.

A Humble Beginning

First private wilderness therapy program in FloridaBack in the late 1960’s, at-risk children who could not be helped through school or community counseling were often institutionalized. Our founders, Jack and Ruth Eckerd, wanted to create better alternatives for helping children turn their lives around. In 1968, they purchased 800 acres in Brooksville, FL to provide the first private wilderness therapy program in the state of Florida. Its philosophy? In a nurturing, caring environment kids learn how to re-direct their behavior, take responsibility for their choices, and develop the skills to become productive, successful citizens. The early success at Brooksville led the Eckerds to open the first outdoor therapeutic program for girls in the southeastern United States in 1969.

The Reputation Grows

By 1982, the State of Florida asked Eckerd to operate the State’s first private juvenile justice program. In 1985, Eckerd began providing aftercare services to youth at risk who have successfully completed an Eckerd Residential Therapeutic Program or other juvenile justice program.

Expansion of Eckerd’s outdoor therapeutic services continued throughout the 1980’s. By the end of the decade, there were 12 Eckerd outdoor therapeutic services and two residential therapeutic services spread across six states.

Prevention, Early Intervention and Academic Growth

During the 1990’s, to further support our vision of ensuring each child has the opportunity to succeed, Eckerd expanded our continuum of care beyond residential treatment. In 1993, Eckerd launched youth violence prevention and character education services in elementary and middle schools to help prevent younger children from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system.

Recognizing that young people need continued support when they return home from residential treatment, Eckerd also began offering Aftercare services throughout Florida in 1993 to help youth successfully transition to their home communities.

Expansion of Community-Based Support Programs

Eckerd embarked on a serious expansion of our continuum of care in the new millennium. This reflects Eckerd’s steady focus on the needs of the children and families that we serve, as well as the systems and organizations we partner with to help youth succeed. The result? A multitude of evidence-based, community behavioral health and child welfare services were added to Eckerd’s continuum of care. In fact, Eckerd’s depth and breadth of our continuum of care is one distinction that sets us apart from most youth and family services providers across the country.

Today, Eckerd’s core service composition is no longer residential programming − a focus that defined our youth services organization for much of our history. Through the breadth and depth of our services, our performance-based focus and our 45+ years of experience, Eckerd has proudly become the first name in second chances.


Jack and Ruth Eckerd

Both Jack and Ruth Eckerd, founders of Eckerd, had tremendous vision, leadership and commitment to creating an organization that guides youth at risk to a better path in life. Their philosophy was that every child is valuable and a treasure in this world, and that every child deserves a chance to succeed.

The Eckerds were true partners in life. Each inspired and encouraged the other to achieve more than they ever thought possible. Their deep love for each other and for all children set a standard of excellence for Eckerd that we are deeply committed to maintaining.