The Fort Walton Beach Rotary Club presented a $25,000 check to the Arc of the Emerald Coast during their Jan. 31 meeting, after proceeds from the club’s annual Pickleball Brawl tournament were dedicated to the organization this year.
- The Arc of the Emerald Coast provides services to children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities across Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties. Their programs aim to encourage greater community inclusion and independence.
Past Rotary Club President Matt Simpson said all proceeds from the Nov. 3-5 pickleball tournament went directly to the Arc this year. For the past two years, funds were split among several non-profits. This year, they wanted to make a bigger impact.
The Fort Walton Beach Rotary Club launched the Pickleball Brawl in 2021 as a way to increase visibility, do more community service projects and engage people after fundraising stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- “We took a year off from fundraising and service because of COVID. So having this pickleball tournament was a natural return of just wanting to do something, as restrictions were lifting,” Simpson said. “Pickleball was gaining traction with people wanting to get outside.”
With guidance from local pickleball advocates, the tournament’s first year brought in $20,000. The second year increased net proceeds to $31,000. And participation jumped again for 2023, with 202 players from seven states.
“We had people from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina and Washington,” Simpson said. “Now people are putting this tournament on their calendar every year for the first weekend in November.”
Simpson said organizing the event took “hours and hours of planning, detailing and meetings,” plus hands-on work from Rotarians, sponsors and 30 volunteers. But he said seeing the Arc clients enjoy the tournament brought perspective.
- “Most of all, this check represents the many services and clients who will be impacted at the Arc for years to come,” Simpson said.
Arc Chief Financial Officer Lea Farrington and Director of Development Marci LeBlanc accepted the donation at the Rotary Club meeting. Farrington said the funds will be split between the Arc’s job training services and its adult day program for those with more involved disabilities.
“Your funding today is two-fold,” Farrington said. “Half of the funds you’re providing today will provide job coaching to 40 individuals over the next year.”
- Farrington said the money will help pay Arc job coaches to work with local employers and prepare adults with disabilities to find and sustain community-based employment.
The other half, she said, will support 30 clients in the Arc’s Fort Walton Beach day program for the next year. There, adults learn independent living skills like cooking, computer skills, and handling money.
“At our day program, we offer classes to help them become even more independent in their day-to-day lives,” Farrington said. “And this funding will help support 30 of those clients over the next year.”
Farrington and LeBlanc thanked the Rotary Club members for their dedication and for “loving on” their clients during the Pickleball Brawl event.
- “It really brought some of us to tears because they were just so giddy, excited and so happy, and y’all loved on them. That’s what they crave,” LeBlanc said.
The two said community support and engagement makes a significant difference in the lives of people with disabilities.
“You guys are just gonna make a huge impact on the lives of these 65 individuals,” Farrington said.