The Giving Trees: Emerald Grande hosts night of giving back

Jennie McKeon
Last year was the first Giving Trees event. Area businesses and organization donated decorated trees that featured a wide range of themes. Instead of being in the Emerald Grande Ball room, this year The Giving Trees will be a walk-through event in HarborWalk. Silent auction proceeds will benefit Horizons of Fort Walton Beach and Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center.

What if money could grow on trees? At Emerald Grande's second annual Giving Trees event, it almost is.

The holiday event, which features a silent auction of designer-decorated trees and wreaths aims not just to spread some holiday cheer, but give back to the community with proceeds going to the Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center and Horizons.

Decorating themes on trees and wreaths range from a "Fishing You a Merry Christmas" presented by the Destin Charter Boat Association, which comes with professional fishing gear, to the Italian-themed "Buon Natalie," presented by Destin Flooring America, which is decked out in all things wine.

Donna Tashik, founder of The Giving Trees and community developer for Horizons, modeled the event after attending a similar version in Portland, Ore., which benefited a local children's hospital. She then went straight to Emerald Grande.

"They have the most fabulous people," she said. "Nobody really knew what we were talking about, but they jumped in."

Last year's attendance was admittedly small, said Tashik. This year, with the help of Emerald Grande staff, the event will reach a broad demographic.

"They're turning it into a magical day," Tashik said.

The event starts at noon Dec. 7 with children's events and a free preview of trees. Kids can visit Santa, get their face painted and enjoy various arts and crafts. The Ballet Conservatory will also perform a special piece from "The Nutcracker."

At 4 p.m., the party begins. For $25 (or $20 prepaid) sample food from HarborWalk restaurants and sip champagne.

"Every penny goes to local people," Tashik said.

Horizons, is an affiliate with The ARC of the United States, which is the world's largest grassroots advocacy organization for children and adults with cognitive, intellectual and developmental disabilities. The local agency works to include those individuals in the community through programs such as supported employment, group homes and residential habilitation.

"Giving to Horizons means that you are making an investment in your community," said Tracey Williams of Horizons.  "You are investing in your neighbors who just happen to have been born with one extra chromosome, deprived oxygen at birth, or survived any other number of genetic abnormalities that they were born with, and have to live the rest of their lives with." 

This year, Tashik decided to share the event by inviting Emerald Coast Children's Advocacy Center as a proceeds recipient.

"It's a cause that's very near and dear to my heart," she said.

ECCAC serves both Okaloosa and Walton County with offices in Niceville and DeFuniak Springs. The organization protects and treats victims of child abuse both Okaloosa and Walton County.

"Proceeds from The Giving Trees will help provide mental health services for child victims of abuse," explained Julie Hurst, executive director and founder of ECCAC. "The holidays are a festive time and time of giving. Giving people an opportunity to enjoy a holiday event while giving to help others is a perfect fit for this time of year."


The Giving Trees even begins at 12 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 7 until 8 p.m. During the day, enjoy children activities and view the silent auction of designer-decorated trees and wreaths. At 4 p.m., purchase your wristbands to enjoy samplings from HarborWalk restaurants, sip champagne and bid on the trees and wreaths. To purchase your tickets early, contact Donna Tashik at 376-1037 or email For more information on Horizons and Emerald Coast Advocacy Center, visit and