“If you don’t believe every day is a great day, you miss it!” -Mike Ullery. Destin Forward Does!


By Lori Leath Smith, Destin Forward class member

Tell people you feel great…Be a good finder…Have an “I can” attitude…Work hard to be the best you can be! These are the words of Mike Ullery with State Farm and the first of many topics in the November Chamber’s Destin Forward session. And, if this isn’t the best way to kick start your day, then what is? From there, the day blossomed into insight and leadership through Destin’s arts, culture and amazing non-profit organizations and their leaders.

How many times do you get to have community celebrities, some of the most creative, diverse arts and culture leaders, all together at one time to learn what makes them tick?
We did! Jeff Dannelly – Sinfonia Gulf Coast, Marcia Hull – Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation, Nathanael Fisher – Emerald Coast Theatre Company and Todd Allen – Northwest Florida Ballet shared how arts and culture entities aren’t just around for entertainment—they go way deeper, offering arts and education programs for our community that enhance our quality of life, foster creativity, offer therapeutic benefits and accomplishments for children and training for the future. “We want to entertain, educate and inspire,” said Jeff. “And help people live their best lives,” said Todd. “I can’t imagine life without the arts,” said Marcia.

As you probably know, most of these organizations, non-profit ones especially, have boards. But do you really know what it’s like to sit and serve on one? Our area needs community leaders to serve where their passion lies as we are blessed to have numerous organizations helping others, but we need funds to do so. Jason Belcher – FNBT, Lockwood Wernet – Destin Water Users, Kevin Boyer – Warren Averett and Kim Wintner – Wintner Enterprises, all pretty much summed it up with their vast experience on boards such as Boys & Girls Clubs, Business Empowered, Harvest House, Destin Rotary, Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation and many others saying, “Find your cause—your passion, then volunteer and serve. Boards exist for the good of our community and are successful through their leadership and volunteers.”

Through speakers Lori Joyner – Harvest House, Ken Hair – Children in Crisis and Roslyn Wik – Shelter House, all involved with kids and families, we were apprised of their deep scope of services — more than what you usually see on the outside—and how partnerships, innovative ideas, help and involvement are crucial. Hundreds of children and families have been “given a chance again” through them. As a class, we are ALL challenged to come alongside and “just do something.”

We were also led into the world of some of our local community service organizations: Bert Little – Boys & Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast, Dion Moniz – Destin Rotary Club, Alison McDowell – Choctawhatchee Basin Alliance and one of our own classmates, Bethany Worley – Junior League of the EC. Truthfully, I was brought to tears by the passion and compassion of those who are working tirelessly in their missions to help change the lives of others, and do it with a smile. Why? “Because the relationships I’ve made have changed MY life,” said Bethany, “and telling the success stories of those less fortunate than me, make me melt and just want to give back so much more.” Dion stated further, “We serve with 100% intent to make a difference in areas such as eradicating polio worldwide.” Alison added, “We encourage partnerships through monetary gifts, but also through volunteer events, in-kind contributions and raising awareness.”

The employer’s perspective on community service is vital in today’s business economy. Brooke Zannis – Destin Commons, Ken Wampler – Newman-Dailey Resort Properties, and Kathy Whidden – Emerald Coast Chiropractic, agree that community involvement helps them and employees feel proud to be associated with the business, feeling better about their work personally. “By volunteering, we help build a positive atmosphere within our business,” said the panel as a whole, “as well as in the community and with our brand. A customer or client’s perception has a huge impact on our business; witnessing the involvement of a local company is huge, because folks just want to do business with other businesses in their community. People often consider employee satisfaction and community involvement when deciding where to work or do business. Through our individual passion to serve, we also forge business relationships, build trust and become individually better, too!”

Our class is inspired to reach deeper into our hearts, trust our fellow board members, remember our cause, use our talents to help, get involved and go the extra mile—all with an “I Can” attitude!