OUR MISSION IS TO HELP WOMEN AND FAMILIES, WHO ARE HOMELESS, ACHIEVE SELF-SUFFICIENCY.

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Homeless Shelter Exceeds Fundraising Goal

FORT WALTON BEACH — It was just three months ago that Opportunity Place started its "Save the Shelter" campaign to raise the much-needed $85,000 to keep the shelter operating.

The shelter met that lofty goal and more by raising $110,000.

"It has exceeded my imagination," board member Mary Lou Reed said. "When we first began the campaign, I was doubtful the community could respond that quickly."

The campaign came about when the nonprofit learned it would not receive federal funds it had relied on in the years past. Executive Director and Shelter Manager Debra McDaniel said the organization is restructuring.

"We're now a United Way agency and working toward sustainability," she said.

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The community responded with donations of all sizes. One of those donors was ZT Motors, which presented a check for $6,700 Tuesday morning outside the shelter. Judy Byrne Riley, chairwoman of the Opportunity Place board, said it was large donations that "pushed us over the top."

"It tells me we're getting the word out to the whole community," she said. "We've made a lot of friends and supporters from the campaign."

Garrick Hatfield, principal of ZT Motors, met McDaniel through mutual connections. After a meeting with her, Hatfield said he was compelled to learn more about the nonprofit. In January, the car dealership launched its own campaign to donate a portion of its car sales to Opportunity Place. Hatfield said it wasn't about selling cars so much as increasing awareness about the shelter.

"I did my research...reached out to the Greater Fort Walton Beach Chamber of Commerce and I got raving reviews," he said. "Our tagline is 'Driven by Service.' We like to give back to the community when we have the opportunity."

Opportunity Place opened in 2009 under the umbrella of services for Okaloosa Walton Homeless Continuum of Care and became a separate nonprofit organization last year.

The shelter assists women and families who are homeless to become self-sufficient by connecting them to programs and resources while providing basic needs like temporary shelter and food. McDaniel said the shelter's annual budget ise $369,000, which includes in-kind donations.

While the campaign is over, the shelter always needs donations of all sizes, Byrne Riley said.

"Now that we've saved it, our next goal is to keep supporting it," she said.


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