Santa's Spree: Visiting company treats local teens with shopping trip

Savannah Vasquez
svasquez@thedestinlog.com

Ever walked into a store and wished you could go on a shopping spree? This exact wish was granted to 21 young teens Wednesday night at Wal-Mart in Destin. Visiting company, DaVita HealthCare Partners, Inc., who offer a variety of healthcare services nationwide and abroad, chose to take a break from their week-long leadership meeting to spread some holiday cheer to underprivileged children of Okaloosa County.

“In DaVita HealthCare Partners, we are a community first and a company second,” said Kathleen Dorgan, the director of launch, learning and development for the company. “One of the things we like to do is a village service day. We have a very strong set of mission values in this company that we pretty much live by…this is who we are, we give back to the community every chance we have to do so.”

The night began at Wild Willy’s Adventure Zone on Okaloosa Island and the teens were shuttled to Destin in busses donated by First United Methodist Church of Fort Walton Beach and escorted by the Okaloosa Island and Destin Fire Control Districts.

As the teens arrived at Wal-Mart, they were met by a welcoming group of 21 excited DaVita team members who then paired up with them, grabbed a cart and started shopping.

At first the teens were shy and tentative, but after conversation and some coaxing from DaVita members and a few parents, piles of clothes, electronics, books, school supplies and other items began to fill each cart.

Alison Ramos started out with some Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle pajama pants, a fashionable sweater and some fuzzy boots. When asked what she thought of the shopping spree she said she was grateful.

“I think it’s pretty cool that other people are trying to help out,” she said. “It means a lot.”

Fifteen year old Dalton Reeves who was choosing a few pairs of jeans echoed that gratitude saying, “I’m actually quite thankful that they are doing what they’re doing and I’m glad they are helping us.”

Although each teen was given roughly $200 to spend, the price point wasn’t stressed to the kids.

“The teens were told they had to pick out something they need and something to read,” said Dorgan. “We are educators and trainers in our company so reading is very pivotal for us. Once we got those they were asked what is something they want and then something they could share, whether it be a parent, sibling, best friend or teacher.”

Fourteen year old Kassie McKinney made sure she checked off her list and after shopping for herself she chose to purchase a set of cooking utensils and a game to share with her mother.

“I kind of got that for me and my mom because she has been wanting a set like that that matches,” McKinney said of the kitchen set, adding that she plans to also bake her mom a Christmas cake.

The shopping event took more than just one phone call from the DaVita team, as Dorgan explained service projects are not always easy to find in a visiting community.

“We contacted the fire department a few weeks ago,” she said. “People think it’s easy to find a place to give back or serve, but with 21-plus people it’s hard to find opportunities sometimes.”

But Eva Wise of Salvation Army and Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida said when she got the call from the fire department that 21 kids were needed for a shopping spree, she was more than ready with a group of kids.

“Our agency works in connection with Salvation Army with our Christmas Connections program, and this year we have signed up close to 800 children from Okaloosa and Walton Counties and right now we have a waiting list.”

So for these 21 teens, the shopping spree was a Christmas miracle. After checking out with their loot, the group of teens and DaVita volunteers loaded back onto the busses and headed to Wild Willy’s once again for a snack of frozen yogurt and some fun at the arcade, and even the shyest teens of the bunch were grinning ear to ear.

“This is the first time we’ve done a shopping spree,” said Dorgan. “We told the fire department what we had in mind and they took on the challenge so it was very exciting. We said send us whatever children they have and many times older children get forgotten so we were more than happy to engage.”

For more information about Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida visit http://ccnwfl.org/