Helping Hands

At the Heart of Giving Back

A chief operating officer, a stay-at-home mom, a small business owner, a Boy Scout and an investigator – each has found a way to use the passions and resources within to give back to the Emerald Coast.

Volunteerism is best illustrated by exploring the lives of those who volunteer. The following five individuals exemplify a giving spirit and live by the Golden Rule through their words – but more importantly, through their actions.

As their stories unfold, it becomes clear that the Emerald Coast is rich with leaders who lead by example. Not only do they have the desire for change, but they are out there making a  difference and changing lives in a very real way.


Claire Partain

Volunteering is a full-time job for England native Claire Partain.

With her husband serving in the U.S. Air Force, the stay-at-home mother of David, 14, and Rosie, 10, does double duty as “super mom” and president of the exceptionally active Junior League of the Emerald Coast.

“One of the things volunteering offers people is the opportunity to do something for yourself as well as other people,” Partain said. “You get something out of it. As a mom who stayed home, this has enabled me to be a person other than somebody’s wife or mother, and that’s important.

“For me, it helps me stay mentally active, and I’m contributing.”

Partain moved to the Emerald Coast with her family in 1996. She didn’t know anybody, yet she began her contributions to the community right away by volunteering at her children’s schools and with their sports teams.

After becoming a Junior League member in 1999, Partain became a living example of that organization’s mission to promote volunteerism, develop the potential of women and improve the community. She moved up the ranks, serving in numerous positions, including chairwoman of the “Suit Up to Move Up” effort, vice president of community affairs, vice president of communications, and in her current role as president. During her tenure with the Junior League, Partain has worked on countless community projects, from collecting interview-appropriate clothing for women with “Suit Up to Move Up” to various “Done in a Day” projects, “Totes for Tots,” “Wish Tree,” a child clothing project and the historic preservation of the Gulfview Hotel.

With a degree in dietetics from the University of New Mexico, Partain was exposed to a variety of community welfare projects and has drawn upon that knowledge to manage volunteer projects along the Emerald Coast.

A self-described problem-solver, Partain uses her analytical skills to lead the volunteering efforts of the Junior League. Her mind just naturally asks, “What’s really the problem? What do we need to get there? How do we know when we’ve gotten there?”

“I have had the opportunity to do great things as a member of this organization that I would have been unable to do as an individual,” Partain said.

She recalls the wisdom of Gandhi, who said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” To that, Partain adds the caveat, “As long as it’s positive and needs to be changed. That is to me the reason we volunteer.”


Bruce Craul

Winston Churchill may have said it best when he said, “We make a living by what we do, but we make a life by what we give.”

Local businessman Bruce Craul has made his living in the tourism and hospitality industries over the past three decades, but it his dedication to worthy causes and the values he lives by that have given him a truly rewarding life.

These two facets of his life often overlap, and Craul prefers it that way. As the chief operating officer of Legendary Inc., Craul is a confident community leader who does not shy away from the principles and beliefs upon which he builds his life.

When he moved to Destin in the late 1980s, Craul quickly was recruited to be a part of the Destin Rotary. Now, as president of the club, he is pleased with the work that has been done through the club. Locally, Craul was influential in establishing a scholarship program specifically for boat captains.

“Since this is the largest fishing fleet in Florida and very often in the United States, we don’t ever want to see that diminished,” Craul said. A boat captain himself, Craul presented the idea to Destin Rotary, and the scholarship now is available, along with traditional college scholarships.

Craul also put down roots with a small but mighty group called The Greening of Destin, which was responsible for numerous landscaping projects, including the refurbishment of the medians throughout the city.

“The one that is most notable – and I still think about every time I drive down the road – is those medians,” Craul recalled with pride. “I liked it because it was a project in which you could see the fruits of your labor. You could see it changing, and it was a great thing.”

Craul eventually began phasing out of the Greening of Destin and into a board position with Boys & Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast. As board chairman for the Boys & Girls Clubs, he has provided steadfast leadership as the organization prepares to open new facilities at the Denton Club in Fort Walton Beach and in southern Walton County.

While he has been dedicated in his business and volunteer work, Craul also has faithfully served as an elder at Grace Lutheran Church.

“If you’re talking about volunteerism, then that’s what it’s about,” Craul said.

“A lot of people say to me, ‘I don’t know how you have time to do what you do,’” he said. “We all have the same number of hours in the day. You just have to set priorities.”

When asked about his leadership style, Craul simply replied, “I’m a servant.

“If people would try serving, they would see that they get back way more than they give,” he said. “You don’t have to give money. If you give your time, talent and treasures, you’ll get (something) back.”

Sean Lynch

For Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department investigator Sean Lynch, duty goes beyond the badge. As a husband and father, he takes pride in his job and the work he is doing with Generous Heart Ministry, the organization he helped establish.

Lynch’s zeal for helping people is obvious from the moment you meet him. A self-described talker, he will eagerly tell you about his role with the county and Generous Heart. Both roles allow him to serve as a bridge – a bridge between generations, a bridge between cultures, and even a bridge between nations.

“In general, you are in a position where people respect you and look to you to help them,” said Lynch about being an investigator. “And that’s pretty cool to help legitimate victims.”

Lynch is a rare Emerald Coast native. He graduated from Fort Walton Beach High School and then continued his education at Florida State University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in international business. Lynch’s international studies were a natural fit with his mother’s European heritage and have come full circle in his vision for Generous Heart.

Even though Generous Heart is a new nonprofit organization, it has set out to fulfill a tall order – to answer the call of all nations, one need at a time.

“We’re based locally right now, but we’re thinking globally,” Lynch said.

With a global impact in mind, Generous Heart will address human trafficking issues as it shares its vision with the community.

This past year, Lynch attended a human trafficking conference at the Emerald Coast Conference Center.

“That particular conference was a seed that was planted in my mind,” he said.

Lynch, an all-in-or-all-out kind of guy, is passionate about the multifaceted topic, predicting that “human trafficking is going to be the next hot issue.”

In the simplest of terms, human trafficking boils down to making money off of humans through slave trade. Generous Heart will work with organizations such as the Florida Coalition Against Human Trafficking and Not For Sale to educate the community about the realities of human trafficking, even here along the Emerald Coast.

“Not everybody wants to run a charity,” Lynch said. “Not everybody wants to donate money. Not everybody wants to help out kids or homeless people. But I think everyone agrees that their fellow man or woman should not be a slave.

“This is an issue that you cannot sweep under the rug,” he said. “The tragedy of trafficking, exploiting and enslaving humans is an issue that every person from the homeless person on the street to Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, can identify with.”

Lynch is optimistic about his first experience working closely with a charity.

“I’ve always felt incredibly blessed in my life,” he said. “God has blessed me in a lot of areas in my life, and I’ve always felt like he’s been setting me up for something.”


Joshua Allen

If you think scouting is just about camping, then you obviously have never met Joshua Allen, a 16-year-old junior at Rocky Bayou Christian School. Allen recently became an Eagle Scout, a distinction that only two out of every 100 scouts earn. The polite young man, who has performed more than 250 hours of community service, ranging from landscaping to manning festival booths to going on mission trips, aims high and doesn’t look back. It is evident from one conversation with Allen that he is wise beyond his years and has a genuine respect for other people and the world around him.

Allen’s family moved to the area in 2002, and shortly after, he became involved with the Boy Scouts. He finds value in the experiences scouting has afforded him, saying, “I get amazing opportunities that other kids didn’t have. I’ve gone all over the place.

“Almost everywhere we go, we devote some time to making the area better than we found it,” said Allen, who has devoted more than 60 hours just to trash pick-up efforts. “We have a principle called ‘Leave no trace.’ Leave the area as if we were never there or like nobody else before us had been there.”

This year has been an exciting one for Allen. He traveled to London for the World Jamboree, in which scouts from around the world came together, and he also completed his Eagle Scout leadership project.

To earn the rank, Allen had to manage a service project from conceptualization to completion. Allen chose to design and build a lunch area for his high school.

Allen felt like he really needed to help his school, which did not have dedicated cafeteria facilities.

“Our school was running low on eating space,” he said. “Some kids were just sitting in the grass and stuff. I thought it would be a good idea to have a place where we can eat and hang out, and now it’s called ‘The Gathering.’”

Six months of planning, three weekends of building, 30-plus young volunteers and 188 man-hours later, Rocky Bayou Christian School had a brand-new seating area featuring unique benches that can be used as picnic tables or park benches.

“I get my inspiration for helping the community from just being a Christian,” Allen said. “And helping others. That’s part of the Scout oath we take – to help other people at all times.”

You likely won’t find the goal-driven teenager camped out in front of the TV. He enjoys all things outdoors, including playing tennis, golfing, swimming, wakeboarding, hiking and rock climbing.

“I just climb about everything I can get my hands on,” Allen said with a grin.

And at the rate he’s going, he is sure to find his way to the top.

Teresa Vucovich

Sitting still just isn’t in Teresa Vucovich’s vocabulary. After a 20-year nursing career, she traded in her scrubs and now operates two small businesses – Uniquely Chic, a Destin boutique she owns and operates with two friends, and Dragonfly Design, her one-person interior design firm. Along with those priorities, she still makes time for her husband, Todd, and her 16-year-old son and 19-year-old daughter, not to mention volunteering on a regular basis.

“Even though I have both businesses, I still have my free time and make my own schedule so that I’m available to do these charities when I need to be there,” Vucovich said.

Vucovich and her husband are founding board members of the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation, which got its start in 2006. She served as the executive director in the organization’s inaugural year and helped raise $50,000 for local charities.

Before she took the leadership role with the Destin Charity Wine Auction, Vucovich had been active with the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation for years, serving as volunteer coordinator. The transition to her role with the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation was a natural one. Mattie Kelly had been the beneficiary of the Sandestin Wine Festival, the backdrop event of the Destin Charity Wine Auction, and also was chosen as one of the charities to benefit from the wine auction.

In two short years, the Destin Charity Wine Auction has flourished and raised more than $500,000 for local charities.

Vucovich currently serves as chairwoman of the foundation’s charity relations committee and is responsible for reaching out to local charities and establishing relationships.

“It’s definitely a symbiotic relationship between the charities and the foundation,” she said. “We want to have real relationships with our charities, and we’re working on that.”

The 2008 Destin Charity Wine Auction, scheduled for April 11-12, 2008, will benefit the Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation, Children in Crisis, Ronald McDonald House and Lighthouse Family Retreat.

Vucovich also gives of her time to some of the featured charities. Lighthouse Family Retreat is an organization based out of Atlanta that helps families who have children with cancer take a vacation along the Emerald Coast. Vucovich treats the visiting kids to an ice cream social so that Mom and Dad can enjoy a much-needed night out.

When Vucovich does find some down time, it is all about connecting with her own family – her husband, her kids and her appropriately named Chihuahuas, Pinot and Syrah.

“There’s a little plaque I keep right over my kitchen sink,” Vucovich said. “Supposedly Mother Teresa said it. She said, ‘God doesn’t require us to succeed. He requires that we try’ – and I try.”

How to Find Your Volunteering Fit 

With myriad options, finding the right volunteering situation can be a little overwhelming. Fortunately, quite a few tools are at your fingertips to find the role that is a perfect fit for you. The opportunities are endless, and the return on your investment of time, energy and talent is priceless.

» Set Your Sites
For local volunteer opportunities, visit:,,

For international volunteer opportunities, check out:,,

» Phone It In
Do things the old-fashioned way and pull out those dusty Yellow Pages. A quick peek under the “Social Service Organizations” heading may trigger some thoughts on the right place for you.

» On the Job
Ask your employer about corporate opportunities such as United Way designations, Adopt-a-Highway or beach cleanup days. Trade in your office party for a day of giving at a local children’s home or nursing home.

» Peer Pressure
Ask your friends what they do and how they got started. If they aren’t currently plugged in, find something you can do in pairs or in a small group. You will have fun with your friends and leave feeling good about the way you spent your time.

» Walk-Ins Welcome
Most nonprofit organizations have a centrally located home office. The next time you drive by the headquarters for Habitat for Humanity, or any other organization that piques your interest, stop in and see what type of volunteerism projects are available.

» A Class Act
If you have children, keep your eye out for opportunities at your child’s school.

» Read All About It
Check the local newspapers. Volunteer opportunities sometimes are listed in the classified section, and the entertainment section often has listings of popular charity events. Find an organization and event that fits with your interests.

» Just Do It
Volunteering is the result of living by the Golden Rule. You don’t have to make a long-term commitment or any commitment at all to make a difference. The next time you are walking down the street and you see a piece of trash, pick it up and throw it away. The next time your elderly neighbor is carrying in her groceries, offer a helping hand. You don’t have to sit on the executive board of a nonprofit organization to make a difference. Simply by giving a little of yourself, what you get back can be immeasurable.


Volunteers Breathe Life Into Local Organizations

Volunteers are vital to the success of local nonprofit organizations, and nobody knows that better than individuals who the lead those organizations. We spoke with Pat Carlyle, president of Bark Park; Paula Shell, chief executive officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida; and Sheri Frost, chief operating officer of the American Red Cross of Northwest Florida, to learn just how important volunteers are to the ultimate success of their organizations.

How long have you been involved with your organization?
Three years.
Shell: Eleven years.
Frost: Eighteen years.

What is the primary mission of your organization?
To provide a safe space for dogs to play and run off-leash.
Shell: To help children reach their potential through professionally supported, one-to-one relationships with measurable impact.
Frost: To help people prevent, prepare for and respond to emergencies.

What do volunteers bring to the table for your organization?
We are a 100-percent volunteer nonprofit organization. We won’t continue to exist, thrive and offer services without community and volunteer support.
Shell: Time. A heart for children. Commitment.
Frost: They are our organization. We have 11 paid staff and 900 volunteers. We handle 2,500 military cases a year – all with volunteers. We handle 300 single-family emergencies a year – all with volunteers. During Hurricane Katrina, this chapter handled 35,000 cases – 99 percent of the work was done by volunteers.

How important are volunteers to the success of your organization and its mission?
Volunteers raise money, work to establish and maintain membership, and provide communication to our members and the tourists who visit the area. They also maintain the grounds of the park.
Shell: We would not be in business without them.
Frost: We can’t do our mission without them. We are a “volunteer-led” organization.

Describe the different volunteer opportunities within your organization.
Membership liaison, bookkeeping, maintaining membership records and our nonprofit status, infrastructure maintenance, event planning and event production for our two- and four-legged friends, grant writing and fundraising, media relations, Web site management, board participation and governance.
Shell: We have several programs available to suit volunteers’ needs: one-to-one mentoring, Bigs in Schools and Sites, Big Couples, corporate mentoring and group mentoring.
Frost: Disaster and military casework, presentations, fundraising, disaster response, health and safety teaching and presentations, international and disaster tracings, and deployments with the military to Iraq and other war-torn areas.

On average, how many volunteers do you have on your team?
Ten to 15, but we need more volunteers to support the board and for events. We are always looking for more volunteers to join in the fulfilling effort of growing Bark Park.
Shell: We are currently supporting 252 active matches in Northwest Florida, and year to date, we have served 492 children.
Frost: Nine hundred.

How would increased volunteer participation affect your organization?
We would be able to spread the fun of the organization throughout the community and not have to rely on the same group of people to carry all of the responsibility for maintaining a community-based park.
Shell: We currently have 227 children on our waiting list waiting for a Big Brother or Big Sister. Increased volunteer participation would allow us to reduce this waiting list.
Frost: We welcome it.

How can people learn more about volunteer opportunities within your organization?
Go to or e-mail us at
Shell: Call (850) 433-KIDS (850-433-5437) or go to
Frost: Go to our Web site – Click on the volunteer page, which takes you to our volunteer match site and holds all our available jobs.