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Derek Jeter helps expand Brandon center to prevent teen substance abuse

BRANDON — At age 15, Alex Hinder- scheid found himself in a very dark place — arrested and charged with possession of marijuana.

His near-daily drug use affected most parts of his life. He was moody, he slept a lot and his usual high marks in school plummeted, causing friction between him and his single-parent mom.

"I'd hit rock bottom and I had no one else to blame but myself," Hinderscheid said.

He was ordered by a court to seek treatment at the Phoenix House, an outpatient drug- and alcohol-rehabilitation center not far from his home in Carrollwood, for people with substance abuse disorders .

"I was scared," Hinderscheid said.

His fear was short lived once he was welcomed to the Derek Jeter Center, a sector of the Phoenix House devoted to helping adolescents.

"They treated me with dignity and respect and had me look introspectively and closely at my life," he said. "They even gave me help with my academics and career planning — the whole package."

The center is largely funded by the Turn 2 Foundation, established in 1996 by Jeter — the New York Yankees captain and All-Star shortstop who retired in 2014 after 20 years in the game and whose No. 2 jersey was retired by the team earlier this year.

The Derek Jeter Center is designed to help teens steer clear of drugs and alcohol and "turn to" a life of healthy choices.

The program worked wonders for Hinderscheid.

Now 18, he graduated in May from Gaither High School with a grade point average near 6.0 and credit for honors classes and dual college enrollment.

Fortified with a Florida Bright Futures Scholarship, he'll head this fall to the University of Central Florida with aspirations of becoming a nurse practitioner.

He also was presented a $4,000 Turn 2 Foundation Scholarship during the dedication Tuesday of the renovated Phoenix House Heartwood campus in Brandon. Jeter attended, along with his sister Sharlee Jeter, president of the Turn 2 Foundation, and nearly 100 others.

The campus opened in 2012, replacing the Carrollwood center, and now hosts the Derek Jeter Center — the only program of its kind in the Phoenix House network of 50 campuses in 11 states.

The newly enlarged 6,500-square-foot Phoenix House serves teens and adults throughout the Tampa Bay Area.

To date, the Turn 2 Foundation has donated $1 million to benefit the Derek Jeter Center, including a $150,000 contribution that Sharlee Jeter announced during the dedication.

"I don't even know how to express my gratitude to the Phoenix House and Derek Jeter's support of the program because without their help I don't think I would have graduated from high school," Hinderscheid said.

Ann Bray, president and CEO of the Phoenix House, also thanked the Jeter family, whose patriarch Dr. Charles Jeter, a retired substance abuse counselor, once served on the Phoenix House board.

"Derek Jeter is a real role model and he's a strong proponent of wellness that includes mind, body and spirit," Bray said. "And the Turn 2 Foundation is an incredible organization in helping adolescents."

Phoenix House Florida Vice President Maria Alvarez said nearly 1,000 adolescents have been treated at its Brandon location since it opened. The program's success rate, she said, is in the mid-90 percent range and the satisfaction rate is about 95 percent.

"It's helped teens gain control of their lives and helped them re-establish healthy relationships with their families," Alvarez added. "But without Derek Jeter's support we would not be able to do what we do. The fact that he is so passionate about helping teenagers means the world to us."

When asked why he created the foundation and partnered with Phoenix House, Jeter said it was his father's idea.

"My sister and I learned early on to do what our dad says," he quipped.

"We also understood the importance of helping people with substance abuse problems," he said, "and the Phoenix House is a remarkable organization ... like we learned from our dad, it does great work."

Contact Joyce McKenzie at hillsnews@tampabay.com

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