The recently opened Hyatt Place Sandestin at Grand Boulevard hosted a “Gallery Night” grand opening celebration and fundraiser on Thursday, Feb. 21. Hotel management company Howard Hospitality announces the new hotel, along with a multitude of community partners, raised $15,000 during the event to benefit the fine arts programs at Port St. Joe High School and Wewahitchka High School.

Hyatt Place Sandestin at Grand Boulevard was designed with local art and artists of South Walton in mind. The artwork in the hotel highlights the talent and diversity of some of Walton County’s greatest artists, including Chandler Williams, Mary Hong, Velia Lala, Linda Kernick, Raul Pardo, Amy Laurae, Alejandra Vega, and Kathleen Schumacher who all donated original works to the event’s silent auction to raise money for the two schools. Local artist Justin Gaffrey created a unique live painting during the event which was raffled off during the fundraiser.

Both Port St. Joe High School and Wewahitchka High School in Gulf County were severely impacted by Hurricane Michael last October. Building damage, flooding, and temporary school closures affected both staff and students in the months following the storm.

“About 15 percent of the students at the school were from Mexico Beach where Hurricane Michael made landfall," said Principal Josh Dailey of Port St. Joe High School.

The hotel team made a decision before the property opened to use the platform of their Grand Opening to bring awareness to the needs of students in Gulf County in the aftermath of the storm.

“Now more than ever, it is imperative that these students have access to enriching, after-school programs and arts education in their classrooms,” said Hyatt Place Sandestin General Manager Megan Suggs.

Both schools reported damage to their arts departments after the hurricane, including a loss of performance space for music and drama, loss of supplies and materials, destruction of musical instruments due to water damage, and numerous other challenges. Wewahitchka High School’s gymnasium floor, where its students performed their yearly Christmas Concert, was destroyed by water damage. Port St. Joe High School’s Culinary Arts wing had its roof lifted off in the storm.

“We are past the point of needing blankets and hot meals, thankfully. Now what these kids need is something to inspire them as the reality of their forever-changed lives sinks in," remarked Dailey.

Hyatt Place Sandestin at Grand Boulevard, a Howard Group development operated by local hotel management company Howard Hospitality, committed to matching up to $5,000 in donations from the event. The funds raised during the night surpassed that amount, bringing the total amount raised to $15,000 which will be divided by the two high schools.

Hyatt Place Sandestin at Grand Boulevard’s relationship with these two schools won’t end with the Grand Opening celebration explained Suggs, “We are actively looking for additional ways to support [the students] and if anyone in the community is interested in partnering with us, please let us know.”