Beyond our community
While vacationing in Costa Rica, my wife and I became aware of a local elementary school that was in need of basic school and personal hygiene items. We decided to purchase various school items along with other things such as clothing, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, toys, gum and candy for a visit to the school. As we were driving through the local town where the school was located, I couldnt help notice all the poverty around me. It was surreal. Many of the small windowless shacks had nearby communal burn marks on the ground for residents to incinerate their trash. There were no sidewalks so people walked on the side of the littered street. Many of the women carried large containers on top of their heads. Most of the side streets were dirt roads. The stream which passed part of the road I was driving on was polluted. This was rural at one of its darkest moments. A native New Yorker myself, I have been to several low income neighborhoods while growing up. As a young kid I played in many of them myself but these scenes made my memory of standing on the welfare line with my mother seem like a picnic.
Upon approaching the school I noticed it looked like an abandoned building compared to our standards. It was a small wooden cabin without air-conditioning that probably couldnt fit more than thirty kids comfortably. The children and their dedicated teachers were curious at our arrival. I imagined the questions they all had were; who were these people? And why were they here? However, they became ecstatic when they learned we brought bags of goodies for their enjoyment. As you can see from the pictures they were beaming with joy. Their contagious laughter was loud but it was soothing to my heart. It was truly a magical experience.
It never ceases to amaze me how sometimes simple things can be life defining. Although in the grand scheme of things we didnt bring these kids a whole lot, we did bring them an experience that they will never forget. And in turn they did the same for us.
On the Home Front
Great American Products has donated over $35,000 to the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation. Its mission is to raise money for children in need. The foundation supports Ronald McDonald House Charities of Northwest Florida, Children in Crisis, Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation, and the Lighthouse Family Retreat. You can learn more about each one of these charities below.
Through their benefiting charities, the proceeds raised provide financial support and give hope to at-risk children, including those afflicted by health issues. The broader reach of the charitable contributions include improving the school systems and cultural enrichment programs. The Ronald McDonald House of Northwest Florida was founded in 1981 and opened its doors on October 13, 1984. Since then, over 15,000 family members have called the house their Home-Away-From-Home. Families stay at the House when their physician refers their child to a nearby hospital for life-saving medical treatment. Strong community leadership is behind a long and respected history of service to families and children in crisis. For several years, the need for this service has outpaced the space available. Consequently, the RMHC board of directors has launched an expansion to serve families from the Panhandle of Florida who must currently be turned away due to lack of space. In 2005, the organization purchased property and began feasibility and planning to build a new 26-bedroom Ronald McDonald House. The charity currently serves 9 families at a time, but there is a need to serve 26 nightly. Currently, up to 36 family members can stay in the house nightly and additional families are provided with respite care services while on the waiting list. Unfortunately, for every 3 families served in 2006, 2 were turned away. The house is excited to have launched a $5 million capital campaign to build a new 26-bedroom house that will begin construction in 2008.
Children In Crisis, Inc. is a non-profit, 501(c) (3), charitable organization of caring people working together to provide homes and establish hope to the foster children of our community. In a perfect world, we would have enough voluntary foster and shelter care homes in Okaloosa and Walton Counties to meet our growing needs. Unfortunately, there is a severe shortage of foster homes and one-in-four children are placed in a home that is over-capacity. This causes siblings to be separated, children to be placed out of their county and moved from foster home to foster home, three to four times per year. Additionally, our community doesnt have an emergency shelter for abused and neglected foster children. Thanks to your generous support, we are building a Childrens Neighborhood with an emergency shelter, four foster homes, a neighborhood center and a recreation center. This will provide a stable, nurturing home for our children in a local neighborhood setting that will address their emotional, physical and special needs. This is a community challenge and with your continued support, together we will make a difference in the life of a child.
The Lighthouse Family Retreats mission is to serve children with cancer and their families at a seaside retreat and help them to laugh, restore family relationships and find hope in God. Our hope is that families return home from The Lighthouse and continue their journey with renewed strength, hope and love. On August 8, 2000, The Lighthouse held its inaugural retreat for six children with cancer, their families and volunteers. Since that time, The Lighthouse has served more than 500 children with cancer and their families and hosted 50 retreats. . Retreats are held in rented or donated homes along the Florida panhandle between Destin and Panama City Beach and are scheduled annually from April to October. January 2007 marks the beginning of the 8th retreat season for The Lighthouse with a goal of serving more than 120 families at 10 seaside retreats. While the growth has been amazing, the passion of the staff and volunteers is fueled by the countless smiles, long-lasting friendships, renewed relationships and the powerful testimonies of families.
The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation is a pro-active partner in education through All Kinds of Art to provide resources for students to explore their interests and develop their talent in the arts. This educational outreach program reaches thousands of students in Okaloosa and Walton Counties annually to bring art enrichment through the literary, performing and visual arts with live touring performances, after school and summer camp programs. The Foundation reaches at-risk students and provides scholarship assistance to financially disadvantaged students. All Kinds of Art was awarded the Florida Commissioner of Education Award of Distinction by the Florida Department of Education and is endorsed through grant funding by the Florida Arts Council, Southern Arts Federation and the National Endowment of the Arts. Art education has been proven to make a positive difference in academic scoring and self-esteem. The future Mattie Kelly Cultural Arts Village will serve as a cultural magnet for young artists in our community.