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: www.dcwaf.org.
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.