Serving Our Children: The Destin Charity Wine Auction in Our Community 

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We live in a truly stunning location. The white sand beaches, the turquoise waters, and the “island” life are world-renowned. Having moved here from Washington D.C., it sometimes feels as though I’ve escaped real life and my family is on a permanent beach vacation. 

But despite the beautiful locale, we are just like any other city with individuals, and children, in dire need of assistance from our small community. Homelessness, abuse, and hunger are realities for many, even here in paradise. On a whim, I recently rallied my colleagues to volunteer at Food for Thought, a local nonprofit dedicated to fighting child hunger. Once a month during our lunch hour, we walk down to the Destin location and pack backpacks of food for children in Okaloosa County. Did you know that Food for Thought provides food for 3,300 children at 32 schools in Okaloosa and Walton counties each week?

I’ve always had a huge soft spot for non-profits whose mission focuses on children. In the past, I have worked at overnight summer camps, led church youth groups, and taught college preparatory classes for economically-disadvantaged high school students. These experiences, combined with being a mother of three young children, have made me keenly aware of the like-minded people and organizations working tirelessly to support our youth. 

One such local organization is the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation (DCWAF). You might have heard of its top-rated wine and culinary events but did you know that since 2005, DCWAF has donated $18 million to Northwest Florida charities? These funds have impacted the lives of more than 90,000 youth, including those afflicted by health issues and abuse. In 2018 alone, DCWAF donated $2.7 million to 15 children’s charities. 

The work that DCWAF is doing in our community is truly inspiring; I reached out to the Foundation to learn more about their efforts and the children whom they serve. Kate MacMillan, DCWAF Communications Manager, noted that one of the highlights of the DCWAF is the network they have created for the benefiting charities to share and partner with one another, rather than competing against each other for fundraising dollars.

For instance, AMIkids, Youth Village, and Boys and Girls Club have utilized the Food for Thought Full Circle Kitchen, who in turn, provides backpacks for several of their students. In addition, following Hurricane Michael, Food for Thought needed to store refrigerated items being sent to Panama City, so Habitat for Humanity loaned them refrigerators. Likewise, Children’s Volunteer Health Network send their dental bus to Youth Village, Children in Crisis, and Boys and Girls Club. Another example - Shelter House provides self-defense and prevention training to Children in Crisis, Boys and Girls Clubs, Youth Village, and AMIkids.

In the current political and social environment, it can be challenging to find heartwarming stories that connect us, so it has been refreshing to learn about DCWAF and the charities that it supports. For more information on the amazing things happening in our community and to purchase tickets to the 14th Annual Destin Charity Wine Auction taking place April 26-28 at the Grand Boulevard, check out the DCWAF web page:

The 2019 DCWAF charity recipients include:

  • AMIKIDS EMERALD COAST provides the kids in our community an opportunity to transform into responsible young adults.

  • The BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS OF THE EMERALD COAST provide seven safe, positive, after-school and summer programs for young people between the ages of 5-18 years.

  • CHILDREN IN CRISIS provides an emergency shelter for young children and group foster homes that help with the severe shortage of foster homes in our community.

  • CHILDREN'S VOLUNTEER HEALTH NETWORK facilitates the delivery of comprehensive, direct medical, dental, and mental health services to school children whose family income falls below certain measures.

  • EMERALD COAST AUTISM CENTER’S mission is to improve the lives of young children with autism and their families by providing effective treatment and education options during the critical early education years and beyond.

  • The EMERALD COAST CHILDREN'S ADVOCACY CENTER saves and heals child abuse victims in Okaloosa and Walton counties.

  • FOOD FOR THOUGHT provides backpacks filled with healthy, easy-to-prepare food for students who are dependent on free or reduced school meals.

  • HABITAT FOR HUMANITY OF WALTON COUNTY builds and rehabilitates simple, decent houses with the help of partner families and the community.

  • MENTAL HEALTH ASSOCIATION OKALOOSA & WALTON COUNTIES provides mental health services and works to improve the treatment and opportunities for children and adults through education and advocacy.

  • OPPORTUNITY PLACE helps homeless women and families achieve self-sufficiency by providing the tools necessary to gain and maintain employment, budget appropriately, and parent effectively.

  • PATHWAYS FOR CHANGE saves people from the destructive lifestyle too often perpetuated by poverty, abuse of alcohol and other drugs, and lack of education.

  • SACRED HEART HOSPITAL ON THE EMERALD COAST is dedicated to spiritually-centered, holistic care that sustains and improves the health of individuals and communities.

  • SHELTER HOUSE OF NORTHWEST FLORIDA is the state-certified center serving victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Okaloosa and Walton counties.

  • THE ARC OF THE EMERALD COAST is an affiliate of The Arc of the United States, the world’s largest grassroots advocacy organization for citizens of all ages with cognitive, intellectual, and developmental disabilities, and their families.

  • WESTONWOOD RANCH emphasizes the importance of learning by “doing,” utilizing an applied behavioral therapy approach to teach functional academics, personal and social skills, independent living, and vocational skills.

  • YOUTH VILLAGE creates a haven to provide various educational and recreational services to children ages 5-16 during non-school hours in a safe, nurturing, and encouraging environment.

Little Green Thumbs

By Danielle Torley

As a busy momma of three, I’m always looking for family-friendly activities and traditions. So when the idea of a GARDEN popped into my head a few years ago, I (naturally) started researching things like “garden layout,” “gardening in Florida,” and “Florida garden pests.” We brought in gravel, built four raised boxes, raided the Home Depot and Lowe’s garden sections, and got to planting. 

It started off perfectly – the eggplant, peppers, corn, green beans, tomatoes, and basil grew quickly and I enjoyed being outside after a long day at the office. But in the end, our yield from the first year was less than ideal. I definitely learned a few lessons about pests, soil, watering, and gardens in general. However, the kids loved it. My daughter, Annabelle (5), particularly liked watering the garden every day and planting the marigolds. So this year, I decided to consult with a couple of local women, Crissie Anderson and Sherry Currow, for their gardening tips and tricks. 

Crissie and her family have been gardening for six years. Her husband, Mike, had a garden growing up and his grandfather also kept a large garden each year. They decided to start one when their children, Payton and Finleigh, were toddlers. Their list of items is extensive and includes cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, squash, watermelon, strawberries, corn, herbs (basil, thyme, rosemary, parsley), hot peppers, kale, broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, and blueberries. Finleigh (8) and Payton (5) also enjoy planting and eating the food, especially the bell peppers and strawberries, lettuce, and blueberries. 

Sherry and her family have gardened for more than seven years. She and her husband, Scott, also had gardens as children and longed for a delicious BLT made with homegrown tomatoes. They enjoy educating the kids on the entire gardening process from preparing the soil, to picking the seeds and plants out, to helping plant them, and finally, harvesting. Noah (7) and Eli (5) enjoy looking at the seeds and figuring out what they want to plant as well as harvesting the food from the garden. Sherry and Scott started gardening at their home in South Walton and have continued in Destin, growing tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, blackberries, corn, carrots, strawberries, blueberries, potatoes, watermelon and cantaloupe. Sherry believes that gardening is a learning experience for her and the children. “At the end of the day, for us, it is about having patience and having fun,” she explains.  “The kids learn so much that no matter what, we work it together as a family and all watch it grow, and ultimately, when things don't work out...there's always a grocery store around the corner!” 

So what are 5 of their tips for a successful garden? Read on to get inspired! 

Tip #1: Find the Right Location. Look for an area that has a good amount of sun but also a little shade to relieve the plants on those super hot days. In my first year of gardening, our bell peppers experienced sunscald (sun damage to the outer skin due to overexposure) due to lack of shade and trees. Also consider your garden placement - too close to a wooded area may attract critters looking to snag a few berries or a ripe tomato.

Tip #2: Good soil. There are a number of ways to layer the soil and fertilizer; the trick is finding the right method for your garden. This is based on a number of factors, including whether you’re using raised beds or gardening in your soil. Sherry noted that the soil in her garden in South Walton became richer and heartier with each year of planting, but the first year of gardening in Destin was challenging due to the sandy soil. Both Crissie and Sherry suggest purchasing a composter to fertilize your garden with coffee grounds, egg shells, and other food scraps (but not meat!). 

Tip #3: Garden organization. If you’re a first-time gardener, research the symbiotic relationships of plants and where to plant them. Some plants or flowers, such as marigolds, are beneficial to gardens and will deter insects, attract bees, and act as a companion plant for other vegetables. 

Tip #4: Pest control. Unfortunately, pests can put a damper on any gardener, whether seasoned or newbie. Garden pests come in the form of insects, worms, birds, turtles, rabbits, squirrels, lizards, and larger animals such as deer. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to combat them including pesticides, natural pesticides, wire netting, and garden organization. Sherry suggests planting onions or putting eggshells in the soil. Crissie also recommends researching natural pesticides, which are easy to make at home.

Tip #5: Ask the Experts. If you have questions about pest control or plants, look to your local nursery, Home Depot, or Lowe’s employees. Also consider joining a local gardening club on Facebook such as the Niceville, FL Garden Club, the Destin Garden Club, Gardening in Northwest Florida, or Walton Country Master Gardeners. 


A Run For One

By Danielle Torley

6 Days.

6 Marathons.

125-degree heat across sandy and uneven terrain.

A backpack of all your food and supplies.

One runner for one little girl.

Would you do it?

Richard Torley did. On April 5, 2015, Richard began a run that the world has deemed the “toughest footrace on Earth.” It was the 30th anniversary of the largest stage race called the Marathon des Sables (MDS) in Southern Morocco across the Sahara Desert. He set out with 1,350 other people for six days, running a marathon each day the first three days, two on the 4th day, with a rest day on the 5th and the final marathon on the 6th day to the finish line. 

One of many factors that make this race so tough is that it is a self-sufficiency race across a desert.  Each runner has a backpack weighed down with everything they need for the week including food, medical supplies, camping and toiletries.  They are supplied a certain allotment of water each day and emergency medical care if needed. The MDS format includes predetermined miles and the route for each day. Where the runners end that day becomes their camping spot for the night and the starting point for the next day.

So why did he do it?

Let’s just say it was a perfect point in time where passion met compassion. Richard has a passion for running and, up to this point, had run many races from 25K to 50 miles, but nothing of this magnitude and under such treacherous and unpredictable circumstances and heat. People have died attempting this race. But despite it all, running the MDS was something Richard had jotted down on his bucket list over 10 years ago. His wife, Danielle, persuaded him that the timing was now, despite both working full time and having two small children.

Richard agreed. 

Not only did he have a few close friends doing the race, which meant a support system to train alongside, as well as the accomplishment of finally being able to check this one off his list, but he also knew a special little girl named Celeste who had some very special needs that cost quite a bit.

This run would accomplish it all! 

You see, Celeste, the three-year-old daughter of the Torleys’ long time friends Scott and Melanie Mulder, has Aicardi Syndrome, a very rare neurological disease affecting only about 900 children in the United States and almost exclusively females.

This rare syndrome is characterized by a few key traits:

·        Partial or complete agenesis of the corpus callosum, a part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres of the brain 

·        Infantile spasms, is a form of childhood seizures (Celeste has three different types)

·        Chorioretinal lacunae, an eye abnormality where holes are present in the retina of the eye

Aicardi Syndrome may also be associated with other brain defects and features such as cleft lip and scoliosis. There is no cure for this syndrome and treatment is based on managing the symptoms of each individual patient. 

Celeste’s symptoms include three different types of seizures with a medication for each one. Scott and Melanie work really hard to keep Celeste’s immune system strong which, when compromised, interferes with these medications and worsens the severity and frequency of her seizures. Early intervention therapy several times a week is the norm for their family, in addition to the many doctor visits and lab testing required for her.  Life for the Mulder family, including two-year-old brother Asher, is full and often means passing on many social and family gatherings or leaving early for the well-being of Celeste.  Life is also in and out of the car quite a bit to make all their appointments. So seeing to it that this family would be able to purchase items to help make things just a little bit easier in the middle of so many challenges was where Richard focused his energy and his heart.  His goal was to use the MDS as a vehicle to raise $5000 to purchase a much-needed wheelchair lift and car seat for Celeste.

So how does one mentally and physically prepare for a physical feat of this magnitude? 

Certainly, we have lots of sand On the Coast but let’s face it - our moderate heat and beautiful flat white sand is no comparison to the extreme temperatures and sandy ascents across the Sahara Desert.  So back-to-back long runs across the sand and signing up for as many local 25K to 50K events as he could would be the best Richard could do to prepare physically. 

Mental preparation is a whole other challenge! Each day for six days, Richard would have to endure another 26 miles before being able to stop for the night. He knew he would need something greater than his physical ability to draw upon to push through the exhaustion. Maintaining a resolved focus of the goals at hand and remembering that he is not alone in this were the mental markers he would use to finish the race. And he definitely was not alone! Richard had a tremendous support system from family, friends and many businesses that helped him train and prepare all along the way, including his own employer, Synergy Wireless Solutions, who remained incredibly supportive throughout. So he channeled all this support with his passion for running and focused on meeting the needs of Celeste to help drive him through the bleakest moments.

 “Going into MDS, I knew it was going to challenge me as much mentally as physically. During training I tried to visualize as many positive things in my mind as possible in hopes I could draw on it in the Sahara. It wasn't hard to focus my thoughts back to running on a white beach in Florida as the sun was coming up. Sometimes, though, it wasn't enough. Extreme temperatures, mountain ascents, endless dunes and sandstorms meant that I had to draw from deep within. Barring injury or illness, I knew I would finish- it's not in me to simply give up - so it was more a question of how far I could push myself. There were times, especially on Day 3 and the 57-mile Day 4/5, where I hit low points and would start walking. But then I would remind myself how fortunate I was to be there and how children like Celeste and others would never have this opportunity. It drove me on to run and kept me moving forward.”

 And that’s exactly what he did! Not only did he complete the MDS and raise the needed funds through for Celeste, but he finished 84th out of 1350 participants. What Richard Torley physically accomplished is nothing short of amazing, but to endure and bear such difficult circumstances for the love and compassion of another is, without a doubt, a true reflection of William Barkley’s words when he said, 

“Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory.”

One bucket list goal.

One little girl.

Where passion and compassion collided.

I asked Richard, “What’s next?” He admits he has both the Boston Marathon on his radar as well as the Ironman event, but both are on the backburner while he supports his wife who is training for the Pensacola Triathlon in May. 

In the meantime, is still open for donations. As Celeste grows, so will her needs. Even though the initial goal was met for the lift and seat, the next immediate need for the Mulders is to remodel a bathroom to accommodate a roll-in bathtub for her. Visit Celeste’s page to read more about her journey and to donate if you would be a part of blessing this family as they seek ways to improve her quality of life.


12 New Activities to Experience This Summer

By Danielle Torley

Imagine that you’re swimming underwater with dolphins, rays, manatees, and dozens of beautiful fish.

Or perhaps you’re stand-up paddling (SUP) on top of the water, practicing yoga, and watching the sun set over the horizon.

Or, you’re suspended in the air, gracefully hanging from two colorful silks.

You could be competing in a triathlon race – swimming through clear turquoise waters, cycling along the beach, and running under the shade of palm trees. 

But perhaps you’d prefer speed and height, feeling the wind on your face as you maneuver your kite board across the ocean. 

Now stop imagining, because you can experience all these amazing activities right here On the Coast! 

It can be so easy to get caught up in our everyday lives and routines and forget how incredibly lucky we are to live in a place that offers so much. Each morning, our alarm goes off, we go through our daily routing, work all day, grab some dinner, head to bed, and do it all again the next day.

If this sounds familiar, then it’s time to take advantage of the amazing activities offered right here On the Coast. Looking to slow down for a calming experience? Try SUP yoga. Need some more energy in your life? Head down to the Okaloosa Rugby Club or one of our local adult social leagues. Want to try something with your teens? Take a look at scuba diving or aerial silks. Can’t get a sitter but still want to get out of the house? Maybe stroller fitness classes are your answer. Read on for more information about our local offerings. 

Aerial Silks. Have you ever marveled at the Cirque du Soleil aerialists gracefully climbing the silks? Then you’ll be excited to find out that we have aerial silk instructors and facilities here on the Emerald Coast! Instructors at the Destin Pilates Center utilize Pilates principles and work closely with beginners to develop upper body and core strength. Susan Dunnam, owner of Destin Pilates Center, says their instructors are fitness-based (not performance-based) and have worked with people from 4 to 85 years old, tailoring the stretches and poses to each person’s ability. Check out for information on aerial silks and Pilates classes.  DESTINPILATES.COM

Adult sports leagues. Ever reminisce about those days on the playground playing kickball and dodgeball? Consider joining Emerald Coast Social Sports or checking out the league offerings from the City of Destin. Prefer volleyball? Then keep your eye on the 850 Elite Volleyball Academy for their adult leagues starting this summer!  www.ECSSLEAGUE.COM

City of Destin: 850-654-5184

 Barre classes. A few words you’ll hear repeated most often during a barre class: “tuck,” “pulse,” and “lift.” A barre class provides a low-impact, total-body workout that focuses on small isometric micro-movements of muscles. Set to fun, energizing music, classes utilize a ballet barre and light weights to target the whole body. Many people who consistently attend classes see results in the form of elongated muscles, strength, and flexibility. Ashley Singleton, owner of Pure Barre in Destin, says, “Pure Barre offers strength and definition like you’ve never known.” Want to try it out? Check out for more information. 

Frisbee golf. What better way to get the family outdoors this summer? Frisbee golf is great for younger kids and adults, testing out coordination and Frisbee skills in a fun setting. Frisbee golf courses are available at Morgan Sports Center in Destin and the Ferry Park in Fort Walton Beach.

Kiteboarding. Maybe you’ve driven across Okaloosa Island, seen the kite boarders maneuvering their kites across the bay, and absentmindedly thought that you should look into it at some point. Why not this summer? Our location provides the perfect opportunity for beginners. Both XL Kites in Fort Walton and LTD WaterSports in Destin offer introductory classes where people can experience kite boarding in 1-3 lesson sessions. 

 Rugby. Want something to shake up your standard games on the beach? Check out the Okaloosa Rugby Club! Although rugby is popular overseas and the fastest growing sport in America, it’s still a sport that many people in the USA know very little about. In simple terms, rugby is a combination of American football and soccer. Two teams play on a pitch, aiming to pass or kick a rugby ball into the opposing team’s end zone with a kick at goal for the extra points. The physical benefits from rugby are obvious – it’s fast-paced, with a lot of running and tackling involved. Interested? The Okaloosa Rugby Club plays both the 15-aside and 7-aside versions and are even hosting the inaugural Okaloosa Beach Rugby 7s tournament this summer! Contact Chris Mendonca, captain of the Rugby Club at to learn more. 

Sailing. Living On the Coast, we all love spending time on the water. But imagine sailing across the bay, connecting with the water and wind, without the sound of a motor or engine propelling you. If this sounds like an experience you’d enjoy, then consider sailing lessons with Emerald Coast Sailing Association. They offer lessons for children, teens, and adults that take place in nearby bayous and the bay. Beginners need only to bring a life jacket, water shoes, and confidence in the water. Visit to learn more!

Scuba diving. You know that the oceans offer a whole new underwater world, but if you haven’t taken the plunge yet, why not? This summer is the perfect opportunity to give scuba diving a try! Although scuba diving is not considered a strenuous activity, being in the water while concentrating on slow, deep breathing is a huge stress reliever for many divers. And contrary to popular belief, first-time diving is not a long-term commitment. Dive centers such as Emerald Coast Scuba offer Discover Scuba classes to teens and adults in either the pool or the open water. Need something for the little ones? They also offer a snorkel camp for 5-7 year olds and a PADI Seal Team course for 8-12 year olds. Check out their website at for additional information.

Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) and SUP Yoga. Do you enjoy paddle boarding? Interested in yoga? Or maybe you’re a yoga enthusiast who is new to paddle boarding? Look no further than 30A Paddleboard Yoga! Shanda Beste, owner of 30A Paddleboard Yoga uses a progressive teaching approach to educate people on the proper paddling techniques and use of stabilizer muscles that are essential for paddleboard yoga. She works closely with people to set them up for success, whether on the bay, ocean, or intercoastal dune lakes. Visit for additional information.

Looking for some paddleboard action closer to Destin and Fort Walton Beach? Check out Paddle Tribe at, a new addition to Lulu’s, providing paddleboarding and paddleboard yoga. Keep an eye on their website for new information on class times, tours, and special events!  

Stroller fitness classes. Sometimes it’s tough to fit in a workout when you have small kiddos or babies at home. So, bring them with you to a StroLa Bliss fitness class! StroLa Bliss is a fitness group where women can bring their children in a jogger stroller while they get a great workout that includes cardio, Tabata, and circuit and strength training. It's for every fitness level and a great support system for moms (sisterhood in motherhood). Think this would be a good fit for you? Classes are Mon-Wed and Fridays at Morgan Sports Center. Join the StroLa Bliss group on Facebook or contact Rebekah Thomas at for class times. 

Triathlon. Are you a runner or cyclist looking for your next challenge? The Emerald Coast offers triathlon races of varying distances from sprint to Ironman and even off-road XTERRA. Don’t be intimidated by the idea of training for a new challenge – Stephanie Woodard, a board member of the Emerald Coast Triathlon Club, says that beginners should find a local group to train with and not be afraid to ask questions. She notes that everyone was a beginner at one point, and that the Emerald Coast Triathlon Club has a great group of beginners and veterans who are excited to share their experiences with others. Learn more at 

Waterskiing and Wakeboarding. Maybe you’ve lived in or visited a friend’s lake house, or spent time participating in watersports here on the bay. Chances are you’ve seen (or even tried!) to waterski or wakeboard. They can both be tough sports to master but did you know we have our very own state-of-the-art ski school? Pickos Waterski and Wakeboard School offers single, half-, and full-day lessons at the privately-owned facility with freshwater man-made lakes in Santa Rosa Beach. Check out for more details.