For many Americans, and certainly for most Floridians, Eckerd’s was the neighborhood drug store where we filled prescriptions, bought gossip magazines and orange sodas, and ran into friends from around the community. The Florida-based chain, which grew to over 2,800 stores in 23 states, was the brainchild of business legend Jack Eckerd – one that eventually was absorbed into a giant drugstore chain that vanquished the brand from our collective landscape. But not all of the Eckerd legacy went with it. The foundation that Jack and his wife Ruth founded in 1968, Eckerd Connects, lives on proudly with its mission to assist children in need, simultaneously the most vulnerable and with the most potential, among us.
As the legendary power-couple would always answer when asked about their motivation in creating the non-profit, “It’s about the kids.”
In Brevard, Eckerd Connects has a long and growing influence on the youngest residents of the Space Coast. Director of Community Services, Stan Brizz, and his team do so much to provide social support services to children in need, while remaining steadfast that there still is much to do. The main programs offered at their Melbourne location serve different purposes, but there is often overlap for the recipients. “There is a lot of crossover in the work we do and services we provide,” said Brizz. The overarching objectives are communal: to provide the services needed so at-risk children (and often, their families) can thrive. One young mother, Alyssa, spoke of the impact Eckerd Connects had on her life. “If you would’ve asked me a year ago, where I thought I’d be in the next year, I’d never thought I’d be living in my own apartment with my fiancé and my son,” she said. “I never thought I would be able to say that I was drug-free. Eckerd Connects has helped me in so many ways. I used to be on drugs, in the streets, homeless…today, I’m working a full-time job, I’m a full-time mom and soon to be a wife and I live in my own place. Thank you Eckerd Connects.”
Eckerd Connects Programs include:
- Therapeutic & Standard Supervised Visitations: This program helps parents improve parenting skills, while providing monitored visitation for safety and even court advocacy, when needed. The children in these programs have been removed parental custody, and are in foster care or with another guardian. The hope is to preserve and reunify the family, if possible.
- Hi-Five: Classroom, small groups, and individual character education, violence prevention and substance abuse prevention services, available to children in grades 3 – 6, at four local elementary schools. This includes teacher and parent education, as well as educational field trips.
- Prevention Counseling: Individual, small group, and classroom substance misuse prevention counseling sessions for students in grades 6 – 12 at Brevard County Alternative Learning Centers.
- Brevard Family Support Services (Homelessness): For families and individuals like Alyssa, this program provides case management and financial assistance for families who have a substance misuse history and are homeless.
The Brevard Walk of Fame
The Brevard Walk of Fame is the organization’s annual signature event that showcases its programs and successes, while highlighting individuals who have made significant contributions to the community. The 2020 event highlighted and celebrated the 10th anniversary of this signature event and focused on the legacy of giving and community partnerships that Eckerd Connects has established over the last decade.
Sponsored by Northrop Grumman, the event shined a light on the 1,800 children and families impacted through Eckerd Connects each year and paid special tribute to local couples that have made a lasting impact on Brevard through their philanthropic generosity. They include Keith and Marlene Winsten of Brevard Zoo, Don and Julie Herndon of Classic Wood Flooring, Tom and Susie Wasdin and Mahesh “Mike” and Rashmi Shah of Southeast Petro.