Without A Home But Not Without Hope

By Erika Scannell

As a editor/writer for this great magazine for nearly 15 years, I have never written an article in first person singular or made it personal or about me. I always try to keep my articles subjective and without personal opinion. But this story has touched me so deeply, I have no choice but to write it out and put it into perspective for all to understand. This story has a deeper meaning for me and deserves to be brought to light.

The first alarm bell rang out over the early days of last summer when my husband, our five children and I decided to grab a quick bite to eat after church. Near the curb, sitting in the blazing sun, already sweaty and as red as a ripe strawberry was a beautiful older woman with sun-bleached hair who was obviously living on the streets. I offered her my umbrella to give her shade from the sun and asked if we could buy her breakfast. She graciously accepted both and in return, allowed me to be a witness of kindness and compassion to the five pairs of genetically-linked eyes staring back at me. In my tiny circus, rarely do I have an opportunity to so boldly put my words into action in such a clearly visible way for my children. I was blessed by giving away a small, simple meal and my umbrella… which, by the way, my three-year-old had a very hard time understanding on such a sunny day! (This same three-year-old took every rain-soaked afternoon for months to remind me that I had given away our umbrella on a sunny day and did not have it on a rainy day when it was needed. With grace, we all took turns reminding our precious child once again why it was okay to give it away.)

The second alarm bell rang loud and clear this past January when our area’s first real cold front was moving in and an announcement was made during church asking for volunteers to help in the cold night shelter opening for the area homeless. My husband turned to me after the announcement and whispered, “Remind me to search for my subarctic sleeping bag. I think it’s in the attic. I want to give it to Allen*.” Seeing my shocked and confused face he quickly added, “You know he lives on the streets, right? And he won’t go to a shelter.” No, I didn’t realize that this man who sits a couple rows in front of us each Sunday in church lives on the streets. I ignorantly thought to myself, “We don’t really have any homeless here, in paradise, do we?” I remembered the lady just months before that we briefly greeted, but in my mind, surely that was just a temporary situation or perhaps she was just passing through on her way to family and “no one ever really ‘lives on the streets’, right?” Not here. Not in Destin, undoubtedly? I mean, this is THE Emerald Coast, “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village.” We have tourists from all over the world visit here; it is inconceivable for us to have a homeless population, correct? I knew Destin doesn’t even have a homeless shelter. Well, in my small little world, I reasoned, “If we don’t have a shelter, we undoubtedly don’t have a need for one. And if we don’t have a need for one, then naturally we don’t have any homeless in the area, right?”

I was wrong – so very wrong.

The third alarm bell rang out very shortly after the second. Just a few days later, our On The Coast publisher called and asked me if I would consider writing an article about our area homeless. Still content in my small little happy brain, I reluctantly told her about the alarm bells that were going off in my head and spirit. And yes, even after all these alarm bells started ringing, I was still hesitant because I knew in researching and writing about this, I would have to face a period of my own childhood that is not colored in rainbows, heart-shaped balloons and endless supplies of ice cream and lollipops. For a brief period growing up, my family was without a home and without a place to go. 

Just before I turned fifteen years old, my family was getting ready to move from New Jersey to West Virginia. The trucks were packed, the current house was emptied out and my father had just left to turn in the keys and take one final load of surplus to storage, to be retrieved at a later date. I was lying on the floor in my parents’ room making carpet angels in the rug and looking out the glass doors at the pool thinking about how much I was going to miss the “Garden State” and wondering what “West ‘By God’ Virginia” was going to be like. The only thing still in the empty house was an old rotary phone plugged into the wall jack. (Parents, you may have to explain this one to the younger generation reading this!) The phone rang and I answered it, thinking it was my dad telling us he was on his way back. Instead it was a woman asking for either my mom or my dad. I retrieved my mom from another room and watched as she sank to the floor in utter disbelief at what she had just heard from the other end of the line. 

The woman on the phone was a realtor from WV my parents had been working with in securing our new house. Turns out, the owners of the house my parents had agreed to rent from had changed their minds. They were not going to rent the house for a few more months and were giving it to family members to use for the summer. In one instant my family of nine -  my parents and us seven children - were completely homeless. 

We remained that way, living out of a storage unit for months, waiting to find another place to rent in West Virginia. The memories of this event and time frame had been so far repressed that it wasn’t until talking about the area homeless that my brain allowed it to invade “my happy place.” My perspective was awakened and I emphatically agreed to embrace this story, even to the point of spending the day out in the community, meeting some of our area homeless and the faithful servants who help them! The following are the things I discovered while embracing our community members without a home, but full of hope.


According to an article published in the October 22, 2016 Northwest Florida Daily News, as of the beginning of 2016 there are approximately 629 homeless people across Okaloosa and Walton counties. However, the number of beds available to help shelter those 629 or more is only about 130 beds in shelters and transitional homes. In this same article, Homelessness and Housing Alliance (HHA) executive director Sarah Yelverton states, “[This area] has the highest population of chronically homeless in the state per capita.” Chronically homeless means living on the streets long-term. Yelverton goes on to explain, “Fifty percent of our homeless is made up of chronically homeless individuals. Some have been here 5, 10, 15 years.”

According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Florida has the nation’s third highest homeless population, surpassed only by New York and California. Also reported is the fastest growing homeless population belongs to families with children. Veterans make up 17% of Florida’s homeless population – the highest in all 50 states. 

The rise in housing costs has surpassed income growth. In a University of Florida housing study published in 2013, from 2000 to 2011, the statewide median monthly rent increased from $816 to $950 while the median annual income fell from $34,000 to $30,343. That means over 37% of a person’s income is eaten up by housing, if they are fortunate to find suitable housing for less than $950/month.

Destin has no independent shelter of its own. Walton county has only short-term cold night shelters available when the temperatures drop below 40˚. 


Samantha*, a middle-aged woman with gorgeous long hair and weathered skin, became homeless after her husband died. “He took care of everything. Without him I was left with nothing,” she explains. “It’s not always drugs and alcohol that bring people to the streets. Sometimes it’s just life and the loss of a loved one with nowhere to go.”

 An experienced carpenter and brick mason by trade, Jeffrey* has a heart condition. He is eligible for medical benefits, but only if he makes less than $1000 per month. “You can’t work to afford a house and more for less than $1000 a month. I would rather have my heart medicine than a roof over my head.” His solution: he works 1-2 days a week or tries to find work from those willing to pay cash so he can keep his heart medicine, which would cost thousands and thousands a month without his benefits. 

Matthew*, a handsome older gentleman with a gentle voice and demeanor, says “bad life choices resulting from disasters and loss will lead you to lose everything.” After working for 17 years, his boss died and he found himself out of work. While adjusting to being unemployed and looking for work, his mother passed away, and he chose to ease the pain of his situations with alcohol, causing a domino effect that cost him everything and landed him on the streets. He now spends his days clean, sober and working on bikes in the bike shop of The Blue Door.


 Robert* is a wildly funny and spirited middle-aged man who also spends his days volunteering in the bike shop of the Blue Door. He is a self-taught mechanic with the knowledge and know-how to custom fit bikes in every form and fashion. When asked why he volunteers in the bike shop rather than try to find work in one of the area bike stores, he replied, “I enjoy the challenge and fulfillment of providing a greater need rather than supplying a want. Plus, these people are my family.”

He is not the only one to refer to fellow homeless companions as “family.” Philip*, a taller, younger man with a soft kindness about him shares, “We all try to help each other. We are a family. We take care of each other out here. I know at any time if I’m starving and in need, I can go to anyone else’s camp and they will share what little food and resources they have with me. We just do that. We look out for one another.” Philip goes on to say, “I just wish people understood being homeless is NOT our identity; it’s our circumstances. Some of the people living on the streets are educated and have college degrees. Some were once pharmaceutical reps, experienced carpenters, welders, mechanics; one friend was once a case manager in a hospital and could have been a millionaire three times over. The majority of people are only 2-3 paychecks away from being homeless. That’s all it takes these days.”


The dynamic duo of Others Of Destin, Inc. is Laurel Vermillion and Susie Pierce. These two amazing women may be small in stature but they are a mighty force working as a voice for the homeless and underserved in Walton and Okaloosa counties through a variety of services focused towards leading individuals towards self-sufficiency. They meet face-to-face with people on a weekly basis. One exchange between Pierce and one of the homeless went like this: “How’d you sleep?” Pierce asked as she offered up a genuine hug. Our friend’s response: “Cold, but you know…” Pierce replied, “Need more cough drops? I brought some. How’s your throat? Have you seen . . . ?” 

This personal, in-depth, face-to-face interaction makes this little pair stand out! Vermillion and Pierce make it a weekly mission to check in with as many people living on the streets as possible. They make it a point to assure the others in this area that their lives matter; their situation matters and they are loved. The personal service and attention these two ladies give includes helping with everything from driving the bus to the cold night shelters to filling out benefit forms and finding special items - even cough drops! 

Others Of Destin, Inc. works hand-in-hand with The Church of Destin – a consortium of area churches all working together. One of those churches opens its doors twice a week to offer a hot meal, a clean towel and a shower to area homeless. That door is known as The Blue Door and is located off the fellowship hall of Saint Andrew’s By-The-Sea Episcopal Church in Destin. The team of leaders and volunteers for this little historic church encompasses all. From the “winter visitors” escaping the cold winds and snow of the north who volunteer in the bike shop and kitchen, to the homeless volunteers who enter data and manage the check-in desk, to the church employees and coordinators for the various programs and services, this mighty church offers a twice-a-week food pantry, a clothing bank where each person can exchange dirty clothes for new, occasional free-of-charge bagged lunches, showers and meals as previously mentioned, as well as bikes. Yes, bikes. 

 The bike shop of Saint Andrews is a small work of art in and of itself! It is run by volunteers and has several community partners that donate used bikes, offers discounted parts and even pick-up and drop-off services. Each bike is tagged with its serial number and the name of the person who received it. All information is saved in a computer file at The Blue Door. The purpose of the bikes, as defined by

 long-time returning winter visitor and volunteer mechanic Lynn Middlebrook, is to “Give [those in need] a way to get out and find work and to give those who have work a way to get there.” The bike shop has been in operation for eight years and was the revelation of a handful of faithful church members. Their vision has provided thousands of bikes over the years to area residents, homeless or not. They also provide bikes for the J-1 workers – the seasonal foreign exchange workers. 

Another area activist is Ted Corcoran, President/CEO of the Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce. Seeing an influx of area panhandlers about nine years ago, this group made a commitment to learn more about the two-county situation and the homeless. They realized Okaloosa and Walton county had “big city problems in a small town.” Local police records showed the area had between 50-60 visual panhandlers who travel through the area annually. Digging deeper, Corcoran and the Chamber soon learned from a yearly “point-in-time survey” that Okaloosa County, at that time, had nearly 1000 people not living in a home of their own. “These are the unseen homeless, not the ones you see on the street corners,” explains Corcoran. “And sadly, half of them are under the age of 18.”

Those were the statistics nine years ago that lead to the dream for a “One-stop source for area help” and the start of One Hopeful Place. The concept was to create a facility where those 

 struggling to survive on the streets could receive help finding a job, medical and dental benefits, cold night shelter and even overnight short-term transitional housing for those making a concerted effort to get off the street and working to improve their situation. As Corcoran explains in more detail, “The idea for One Hopeful Place is to give a hand up, not a hand out. People are hesitant to help because the visual panhandlers on the street corners are too often making hundreds of dollars a day as a job and not trying to genuinely improve their life. That’s where this organization can step in and provide services for the roughly 60% of those who want to improve their life.”

To kick start the fundraising for One Hopeful Place, Corcoran and the chamber members organized an overnight “Experience life as a homeless” night in the street event. With the help of Saint Mary’s Catholic Church’s Soup Kitchen in Fort Walton, there was a hot meal and a cold night for all who wanted to join the fight against homeless and receive awareness regarding the reality of sleeping on the ground. Almost a year to the day later, the first phase of One Hopeful Place was able to open its doors with ten beds for overnight or short-term relief. Plans are in place to complete Phase 2, which will double the number of area beds and provide the resource center – the one place for many sources of hope and avenues of help. 



 The solution to homelessness was never designed to be a governmental one but a community one. With the affluence and opulence of this little piece of paradise, there are plenty of opportunities to pitch in. Tax-deductible contributions are always welcome, from The Blue Door and bike shop to the massive building project of One Hopeful Place and the resources offered by Others of Destin, Inc. Anyone can volunteer to serve a meal. Get trained and volunteer to meet the homeless where they are and find out their needs. Donate your used bikes and clothes to an organization that freely gives them away like Saint Andrew’s By-the-Sea. Gather canned goods and dry goods for the food pantry. Collect toiletry items for the free shower. Living on the street doesn’t mean you are no longer human and desire basic human care, like clean teeth, skin and hair. 

If you are an area business owner, reach out to one of the aforementioned organizations and find out how you can help, or contact The Blue Door, Laurel Vermillion or Ted Corcoran and ask to get involved. If you are a member of an area social club or church group, ask how you can

 participate in a service event or fundraiser; ask to cover one of the many free weekly meals. If you work for one of the area corporations, make the phone calls and find out how you can help; whether it’s to organize a company fundraiser or ask for products to be donated to The Blue Door, there is something every single one of us can do to get involved.

One small and simple way you can help is by simply saying “thank you” to the area businesses that partner and contribute to the agencies and services listed above. Publix, Winn Dixie, and area restaurants all donate food. Big Daddy’s Bike in Blue Mountain Beach, Rent Gear Here, Yellowfin Bikes and WaterColor Resort all have donated bikes to the bike shop. If you are ever in those businesses, offer them a thank you – it won’t cost you a thing and it will help affirm that their small acts of generosity do make a huge difference in the lives of those with so little. 

As pointed out in this journey to understand more about the homeless, “many of us are only 2–3 paychecks away from living in the streets.” Let us not be a community defined by our beautiful beaches alone, but let us be defined by how we care and love on those in the greatest need. 

*names have been changed to protect the privacy of our homeless.


Grasses in Classes

By Erika Scannell

Here On the Coast, we are blessed by some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and crystal clear water. Locals and visitors alike swarm to these waters 365 days of the year; no matter the temperature, no matter the day, someone is likely to be at the beach. But did you know there is an equally important body of water just north of our breathtaking beaches? It is the Choctawhatchee Bay, and a group of dedicated individuals and volunteers of the Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance (CBA) are constantly at work promoting the importance of this pristine estuary. As director Alison McDowell says, “The CBA is the one of the biggest little-known nonprofits in the area. And we are trying to change that.”

Water.epa.gov defines an estuary as “a partially enclosed body of water along the coast where fresh water from rivers and streams meets and mixes with salt water from the ocean” or, in our case, the Gulf of Mexico. Because of this distinctive mixture of freshwater draining from the land with the salty seawater, estuaries are home to unique plant and animal communities and some of the most productive ecosystems in the world according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Human communities rely on the brackish water of estuaries for food, recreation and jobs. In addition, numerous animal species need healthy estuaries in order to have places to feed, nest and breed. In essence, McDowell explains, estuaries are “nurseries of the sea and provide rare and important habitats for a diverse array of fishes, birds, shellfish and other life.”

Of the 32 largest cities in the world, 22 are located on estuaries. Not surprisingly, human activities have led to a decline in the health of estuaries, making them one of the most threatened ecosystems on earth. And while many estuaries have been lost or severely degraded by intense development, Choctawhatchee Bay remains one of the least disturbed estuaries in Florida. That difference, in part, is due to the CBA and its continued monitoring of the bay and its surrounding watershed.

The land and creeks that drain into the bay make up the watershed; therefore, the health of these surrounding areas directly relates to the conditions of the bay. Erosion, development, water pollution and aggressive nonnative plants threaten rare habitats upstream of the bay as well as the estuary itself. The CBA works hard to fight these threats to ensure the success of this very important part of our area. It does this through four distinct ways: monitoring, restoration, research and education.

With the help of hundreds of specially trained volunteers, the CBA conducts water quality monitoring at more than 100 stations per month. In addition, it conducts seagrass surveys throughout the bay and determines habitat utilization and oyster growth and recruitment at constructed oyster reef sites. All this data helps to evaluate the health of the Choctawhatchee River and Bay as well as the coastal dune lakes.

Through the implementation of restoration design projects throughout the watershed, the CBA helps to manage shoreline erosion and related sedimentation problems, builds necessary oyster reefs to improve habitat, reduces pollution into the watershed from non-point and point-specific sources, controls populations of invasive nonnative exotic plants, and enhances native plant communities. The specific sites of restoration include areas all around Destin, Santa Rosa Beach and Fort Walton.

To collect information and better understand the natural resources within the Choctawhatchee Basin, the CBA toils endlessly to coordinate and assist with scientific research projects. A few of these important projects include a coastal dune lakes hydrology study, trend analyses on local water resources, Gulf Sturgeon research throughout Northwest Florida, nutrient inflow to Choctawhatchee Bay, research on the harmful algal blooms in the western bay area and hydrologic mixing and nutrient pattern study. 

But perhaps, to many here On the Coast, the most important arm of the CBA is its efforts to educate the community about environmentally-sound living, encourage public stewardship and involvement in our local area, and work with the schools to provide local, hands-on science curriculum to area children. Its education programs include Rain Gardening, Rain Barrels and Sediment and Erosion Control Certification in the form of public workshops. It involves and trains volunteers in the areas of restoration projects, water quality monitoring and clean-up opportunities. For our future generations, through education in the public schools, it adds to the district’s science curriculum by providing Grasses-in-Classes, Dunes-in-Schools, water conservation, water supply, water quality and invasion/exotic species programs. 

The CBA is in partnership with 18 schools between Walton and Okaloosa Counties, servicing over 2000 students per month!  Brittany Tate is the Education Coordinator for the CBA. She develops curriculum, teaches exercises, experiments, and trains and oversees the Americorp volunteers as they visit schools monthly, working with local classroom teachers and instructing our area students about the Choctawhatchee watershed. “The students learn how to monitor water quality and the importance of a healthy watershed. Some grow sea oats in their classroom throughout the year, while others learn how oyster beds function. All participants get hands-on learning fun with a field trip in the spring to plant the sea oats they have grown or get into the water and help rebuild oyster beds.” Ian, now a fourth grader at Butler Elementary School and a participant in last year’s grasses program, says, “That was one of the coolest things all year. I have an appreciation for the water plants that I didn’t have before. The teachers taught me how important the bay and the waters around it really are and it was fun.” Trip, a third grader at Butler currently in the program, sums it up perfectly. “I look forward to the guest teachers every month. We are counting down the days until our field trip when we get to do our part to clean up the bay. We all love to play in the water so it makes sense that we learn how to care for it. A healthy bay means a healthy beach. And who doesn’t love our beach?”

The CBA is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization in affiliation with the Northwest Florida State College Foundation. Their mission as an organization is to remain “committed to sustaining and providing optimum utilization of the Choctawhatchee watershed” providing “opportunities for citizens, educators and technical experts to promote the health of the” basin. To find out more about the CBA, to partner with and/or donate to, and to learn how to volunteer please visit www.basinalliance.com.

About the Author:

Erika Scannell has been married to Kip for nearly 10 years and has 

enjoyed living in this area for the past 13. Mother to 4 incredible 

children and active in her church and community as a volunteer MOPS 

Coordinator, SW Football Secretary and speaker. Enjoys running, 

reading and writing and plans to publish her first book this year.

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Gravity Fighters

By Erika Scannell

Gravity – the natural phenomenon by which all things with mass are brought toward one another; one of the strongest forces in the universe. Here on Earth, gravity gives weight to physical objects and has very personal effects on the human body; more specifically, gravity can have a very damaging effect to the woman’s body. February may be American Heart Month, but it is never a bad time to also focus on the female body part covering the heart – the breasts. The breasts, which are comprised of adipose tissue (fat), glandular epithelium, blood vessels, lymph glands, supporting collagenous fibers, capillaries and the covering skin, have no muscles, bones, joints or other structure that can withstand the effects of gravity.

Dr. Kristi Funk explains the connection this way: “[A woman’s] breasts don’t have muscles in them; they can’t just defy gravity all by themselves. If you let gravity take its toll long enough, [parts of them will change direction].” In addition, experts estimate that 80-85 percent of women are wearing the wrong size bra. “Wearing the wrong size bra can cause or worsen upper back problems, causing muscle tension and sometimes even headaches,” says Dr. Sasi Royyuru, family medicine physician in Bloomington, Illinois. Without proper support, lymphatic drainage is impeded, which interferes with cellular health. Breast disease is more likely when there is no circulation and lymphatic drainage. Furthermore, when gravity pulls a woman’s breasts down, this also stretches the throat and facial tissue, leading to an additional battle of gravity and destruction to the woman’s body.

Cynthia Decker and Molly Hopkins are two well-known reality TV stars whose lives’ mission is to give women the knowledge and tools to fight gravity, improve their health, adjust their posture and radically transform their self-confidence. They are the owners of Livi Rae Lingerie located just north of Atlanta in Kennesaw and were the dynamic, fun-loving, bra-fitting duo of Double Divas airing on Lifetime. Before the show, these authentic bosom buddies opened a small shop with one simple goal: to serve other women in their most challenging and frustrating wardrobe basics. And these two ladies are as genuine as you will find, with hearts full of southern hospitality and generosity that earned them an entrepreneurial philanthropic award just six months after opening shop in 2006.

These two big-hearted gals, along with their vendors, recently joined forces with Freeport local Mary Cornelison Bross of Headstrong Studios to host a local fundraiser. Mary is a stylist, professional make-up artist, photographer and author of the upcoming book Sword for a Princess, her personal journey from victim to overcomer with practical tips for women wishing to obtain freedom from past mistakes, failures, hurts and regrets. For one day, local women could meet the Double Divas in person for an intimate and flawless bra-fitting, information-gathering and confidence-boosting session. Most women walk away with a superior quality bra, but more than that, they gain self-confidence and knowledge about the two things that are uniquely women. 

A properly-fitting bra has a number of health benefits for a woman. These include posture improvement, elimination of shoulder and back pain related to breast size, a lower risk of heart attack, instantly looking up to 20 pounds lighter, clothes fitting better in any shape or style, improvement of emotional health and self-image, improving the firmness and fullness of breast tissue, saving money by buying only bras that fit properly and are therefore actually worn, creating a great first impression on others, and even improving women’s outlook on life knowing their most intimate body parts are safe, secure and properly cared for. During a fitting OTC was able to participate in, Cynthia Decker said, “We walk into a room forward, not backward. No bust too big or too small, we size them all. And ALL girls should be properly presented.” She said this after bringing a bra into the fitting room for a gal and making a perfect fit without even using a measuring tape! 

The local fundraising event these three little powerhouses put on was called YOU SHINE. It was a spa day and makeover hosted at the Bross Sanctuary where women were nominated and selected for a day of pampering by local stylists, make-up artists, manicurists, massage therapists, and of course the Double Divas from Livi Rae Lingerie. The women chosen for You Shine were individuals from our local area who have been struggling with everything from meeting the demands of being a single parent to joblessness, homelessness, addiction recovery and a host of other conditions life has thrown at them causing physical, emotional, financial as well as mental hardships. These are struggles Mary knows well and shares openly as she went from being a successful model and makeup artist to being homeless and living out of her car with a small child. The single most perspective-changing event during that time was when a woman took her and gave her a shampoo, condition and haircut. What that woman really gave Mary was a seed planted in the hopes to one day serve other women and remind them that they are beautiful daughters in need of a polishing when life’s dirt gets thrown at them. When given the opportunity to shine, a mental and spiritual transformation takes place, allowing the individual the second chance they need. 

Mary and her many volunteers, friends like Cynthia and Molly and community sponsors like Thrivent Financial who donated all the hair products used, Sunshine Shuttle who lovingly transported the woman in style from the original Miramar Beach location to the Freeport sanctuary, the many vendors of Livi Rae that generously donated items from pajamas to bras and panties to the ladies, as well as the Med Spa of Destin and Sandestin that graciously hosted the all-day bra fitting event, all hope to make You Shine a quarterly event and bless the women of this community. You may not remember Monday, December 5, 2016, but it was a miserably rainy day here on the Emerald Coast. The sun was not shining much that day. But up on a little property in Freeport, due to the love freely given to hurting women in our community, there was a light shining from within and catching fire! Molly, who has been traveling the US with Cynthia the last 10 years hosting such fundraisers for organizations big both big and small, contributing to national charities like Susan G Komen as well as helping local charities like My Father’s Arrows, stated, “Change your bra, change your life. We live by it.” And who knows, a changed bra with proper breast support may just make YOU shine too! That and the love poured into the women who participated in You Shine certainly did. 

To find out more about the next upcoming You Shine event, become a community sponsor, volunteer and support the local businesses that generously gave of themselves and their resources for this transformation, please visit our On The Coast website or email Mary Cornelison Bross at headstrongstudios@gmail.com

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Struggle of Will: Part 1:An End Before the Beginning


By Erika Scannell

A gifted writer, fresh on the scene is our very own Erika Scannell. As a valued ghost writer, editor and contributor to On the Coast for the past 10 years, Erika is finally publishing her first book – a personal journey through unimaginable pain, forgiveness, redemption, faith and hope. Struggle of Will (Part I): An End Before the Beginning is a battle between reality and the desires of the heart. It is a story of loss and restoration. A story of despair and endless hope when facing inconceivable suffering, this story will captivate and place the reader inside the heart and soul of the hurting.

Erika never planned to be a writer. In fact, in college her focus was on marine science, biology and chemistry. Twenty-five years ago she was sure she was going to become a doctor. A couple years later, after taking Constitutional Law, visiting the US Supreme Court and watching arguments, she was positive she was going to pursue law school and “change the world fighting for environmental laws and protection.” She laughs and tells On the Coast Magazine, “HA! Yeah. I was totally convinced that I was going to be the next Erin Brockovich – only, I really was going to be the lawyer – not just working for one!”

So how did Erika end up writing? “Well, I journaled a ton when I was young. Does that count?” Laughing again, she continues, “In college I took as many writing-intensive courses as I could that would fit my majors so I could rack up extra credit hours. It was really nothing more than ambition and pure coincidence because many of the courses I chose were the only ones that would fit into my already packed schedule. But, in all reality, picking up the pieces after an unspeakable tragedy, that changes you. When I finally could talk about William, many people responded the same way: “You really need to write this story.’” And so she did.

After a miscarriage and some troubling “plumbing issues” early into their marriage, Erika and her husband, Kip, were told that she would most likely not ever be able to have children. “I was fine with that, really. I am one of ten children and I know firsthand how crazy and difficult large families can be. In fact, I was the one growing up 


that always told my mom, ‘Don’t ever count on me giving you grandchildren. You have nine other kids to do that for you!’ Ha! What did I know?” They found themselves with three back-to- back pregnancies within three and a half years. “It was crazy. But we were young, in love and happy.”

That happiness ended abruptly when they lost their third son. He was stillborn (meaning the child was lost in utero – in the womb, and was born dead). “After William died, the reading materials given to us by the hospital service coordinator were so depressing and sad. After throwing them across the room and wiping my tears, I thought, ‘There has to be something else. Something more positive. Something better.’” After years of searching for that ‘something better,’ Erika was finally encouraged to write her story.

“It’s been a work in progress, obviously. William died eight years ago and I’ve been writing it all down for seven! It has not been an easy, overnight thing. It has been a slow healing process. And there have been a few more additions to the family since then - the list of distractions is endless. But not a day goes by that I don’t think about that lost baby – even if for a brief moment – every single day. He is still a part of our lives. I don’t think the hole in a heart is ever filled,

but over time, and by reaching out to others, the edges certainly do soften.”

Struggle Of Will (part 1): An End Before a Beginning takes the reader from the moment the couple could no longer hear a heartbeat, through their delivery, minute by minute, as if the reader is alongside them the entire journey. This is a tragic story of loss and recovery, with a beautiful love story mixed in. This true story will flood the reader with love through humor and pain, raw emotion and perhaps a little victory alongside the writer in her hours of turmoil. Every word is true and real. Erika exposes every thought and is honest and open about her feelings, fears, anger and sadness. In the book she also talks about her faith and in trying to understand how “bad things happen to good girls. After all, I was a preacher’s daughter. I was a good girl. In my little mind, things like that did not happen to good people, until it happened to me.”

The book is also one of hope. In sharing their story, both Kip and Erika desire that it encourages someone else who might find themselves doubting their faith, questioning God, or even at the end of their rope. “Nearly every person we told our story to responded the same way: ‘Yeah, my Ex and I went through that.’ Or, ‘my sister and her Ex suffered from a stillborn.’ It was always someone and their ‘Ex.’ And one of the first things I read from the stack of materials given to us was how most families don’t survive a tragic loss like that. It was like it was OK to let the loss of a child tear your entire family, your life apart. We had already lost a child. I didn’t want the rest of our story to be one of more loss. I didn’t want that one event to define us. I wanted our story to be one of hope. It wasn’t easy. But we survived – as a couple, as a family, together. In writing it all down and sharing it, we pray others can too!”

 Erika assures her readers that this is just the beginning. “This is just a snippet of the great novel God has been writing as our lives.” She feels even the timing of the release of this work and the years it has taken to complete are significant: in biblical terms, the number seven implies completeness and perfection (both physical and spiritual). This book has been in production for seven years. “I don’t think this book is perfect – only one thing has ever been perfect. But God does not make mistakes. And the fact that we are FINALLY releasing this, seven years after starting, makes one aware of just how precise God is.” Not only that, with all the hype surrounding the release of Fifty Shades of Grey – the movie, based upon the novel of the same name written by E L James, it is no coincidence that Erika is releasing Struggle of Will by her initials, E L Scannell, and doing so during the same week. “Come on! Only God can take something as racy and controversial as Fifty Shades and turn it into something as beautiful as His hope, His grace. No, it’s not coincidence we share the same initials. It’s God! If people start searching ‘E L ...’ hopefully my story will pop up too!”

In addition, William would be eight now. According to biblical scholars, the number eight in the bible represents a new beginning, meaning a new order of creation, and a man’s true born again event. Winking, Erika says, “I’m not superstitious, and I don’t follow astrology. But I do believe that sometimes things are just a little too coincidental to be coincidental. Everything happens for a reason! And His timing is not my timing. That is so much easier to say than walk, but Kip and I have definitely had to walk it!” Purchase Erika's book at amazon.com. 

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