In a 'secret place to rest'

PAM GRIFFIN 654-8444 | @DestinLogPam
Tony Larson, left, was diagnosed with Stage IV kidney cancer in 2013 and celebrated his remission this year with Sanctuary Friends Network.

When Sanctuary Friends Network began in 2009, its mission was to provide love and support to families dealing with cancer, whether their family member is in treatment or in remission.

SFN provides lodging free of charge so the hosted families may enjoy a vacation time with their loved ones, creating new memories together. While SFN is God-inspired, all people are welcome, regardless of religion, socioeconomic status, or political affiliations.

Richie Hughes, one of the co-founders of SFN, lives in Miramar Beach and is an emergency medicine physician in our area. He is also active in the U.S. Air Force Reserves as an EM doc/flight surgeon.

"This is God's gig, not ours," Hughes told The Log. "We're just blessed to be His 'flower delivery people'. We've helped over 70 families, mostly at my place in Keystone, Colo. And now in God's time we are ramping up here on the Emerald Coast."

On a recent week in August, two families were here in Destin through the Sanctuary Friends Network — the Westcotts at Ariel Dunes Destin and the Larsons at a home on Onyx Cove in Miramar Beach.

"Currently, we provide vacations in the Destin area and Keystone, but our goal is to eventually have a Sanctuary in every state," family host Deirdre Daley of Shoreline Church told The Log. "Because of donations from local businesses, SFN is able to supply each family with fun activities such as day cruises, fishing trips, movie passes, and goods such as personalized beach towels, sand pails for the kids, and even snacks and drinks."

Brooke Thomas, one of the volunteers who works locally with SFN, and her husband Eric are a host family.

"Our job is to get to know the families through phone calls and emails before they come to stay in Destin," Thomas told The Log. "We find out what will make their vacation special — from what their favorite activities are, to what they like to snack on. When the families arrive, we have an itinerary prepared for them with fun activities and we leave them groceries, beach toys, and gift certificates for restaurants, bowling, movies, ziplining, and more. All of these items and activities are donations from local businesses and churches here in Destin."

When Shoreline Church became involved with SFN, it helped make the Sanctuary vision a reality here on the Emerald Coast. They partnered with SFN to help supply volunteers willing to give of their time and to provide opportunities for others to donate gift cards, gift certificates and other resources to make it possible for each family to enjoy a fun and relaxing vacation together.

"Reaching out and loving people is what Shoreline Church is all about," Hughes said. "When Pastors Darlene and Eric found out our vision for SFN, they went 'all in' with their support, and we now have an army of Shoreliners plus some other generous folks with giving hearts who are making this happen."

While many people are in the middle of their struggle with cancer, some are celebrating a remission or a victory, and still others are grieving a recent loss of a loved one, and SFN wants to make their dreams come true.

"We want Destin to be known as another kind of 'Sanctuary city' where people come to forget about cancer for a while, and make new memories with their families," Hughes said. "We want it to be a place of spiritual healing for these families."