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On the Coast Magazine

Creating the Healthiest Community on Earth

11/04/2015 11:21AM ● Published by Nancy Babin

In addition to its sugar sand beaches and long sunny days, the Emerald Coast is a place for those with big hearts and a passion for giving back. There are more than a thousand nonprofits in this area that work to solve a variety of community issues—from environmental problems to illiteracy and animal abuse. These organizations are the backbone of our community, and one of the many reasons the Emerald Coast is a great place. 

The White-Wilson Community Foundation (WWCF) is a Fort Walton Beach based non-profit organization that has taken on the challenge of bridging gaps in health care. With the ambitious mission of “making our community the healthiest on Earth,” they have a big challenge ahead.  

“Health outcomes in our community lag behind many others in our state,” said WWCF President Dr. Jack Azzaretto. “The Foundation exists to build partnerships and create collaborations that will impact and improve the overall health of this community. While we know that we have a big task ahead of us, we are passionate about our mission and believe together we can make a difference.” 

In 2010, White-Wilson Medical Center recognized a nationwide trend—many women were forgoing annual preventive health screenings, specifically mammograms. Women are traditionally the caregivers in families, and often neglect their own health to care for others. To help combat the decline in preventive care and increase awareness about the importance of women’s health, White-Wilson Medical Center hosted the inaugural Little Black Dress Party. The event and the campaign surrounding it encouraged women to take steps to care for themselves; and the seed for the Foundation was planted.

The success of the event helped build community partnerships and increase access to health services for local women. To date, the Little Black Dress Party has raised over $250,000 for women’s health initiative in the community. 

“While working to serve women’s health needs through the Little Black Dress Party, we recognized additional opportunities to improve the health of our community,” said White-Wilson CEO Alan Gieseman. “It became clear that we needed to establish 501(C)(3) organization dedicated to tackling one community health issue at a time. White-Wilson has been working to meet health needs in our community since 1946 and the Foundation is an extension of that commitment to community health.”

Gieseman’s vision came to life in 2012 with the formation of the White-Wilson Community Foundation. The organization’s mission is supported through its commitment to service, education and fundraising. What sets WWCF apart from other organizations is their focus on unique solutions and partnerships. WWCF works to utilize current resources to help eliminate deficits. 

Upon learning that breast cancer survival rates in Okaloosa County lag behind the rest of the state, WWCF partnered with the Okaloosa County Health Department to expand mammogram services. They have replicated the program through their service area and partnered with Florida Departments of Health in Santa Rosa and Walton Counties. 

Currently, there is no state funding available for mammograms for women under 50. This means that if a 45 year old woman turns to the health department because she felt a lump, they may not have the resources to care for her. To help change that, WWCF partnered with the Florida Department of Health Walton County to provide 100 mammograms for women in need, giving them the capability to serve more women in need. 

In September 2014, WWCF introduced its Community Health Grant program. Since then, the Foundation has awarded over $128,000 to support community health projects in Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton Counties. These grants are funded through the organizations fundraising efforts, including Run for the Health of It, a 5K/8K race held each March; the Little Black Dress Party, held each May and the H.C. White Golf Tournament, held each September.  

This October, $55,000 was awarded to organizations that service women’s health needs. WWCF partnered with the Mental Health Association to provide emergency mental health medications for women in need, Hope Medical Clinic to provide primary health care services for up to 250 women, the Walton County Health Department for mammograms and the Shelter House to establish a forensic exam room and refuge for rape victims. In addition, they worked with Sight Savers America to provide high-tech vision equipment for children in need through a $10,000 grant. 

“Without the White-Wilson Community Foundation, we would not be able to provide emergency medication to women with mental health issues” said Executive Director for the Mental Health Association of Okaloosa and Walton Counties Virginia Glynn Barr. “The Foundation identifies gaps in care and works with organizations like MHA to help bridge those gaps and make health care more accessible to those in need. ”

While it may be small, the White-Wilson Community Foundation is making great strides in changing the lives of those in need of health services. They are committed to finding unique solutions that increase access to care and bringing together community resources. 

WWCF is led by a volunteer board that blends medical, financial and business expertise. Board members include: 

• Jack Azzaretto, Ph.D., President

Professor, University of West Florida

• Alan Gieseman, Vice President

CEO, White-Wilson Medical Center, P.A.

• Ken Haskin, M.D., Treasurer 

Retired Physician

• Gene Barker, CPA

Partner, Warren Averett

• Janet Niemi Chubb, DHSc

Professor, University of West Florida

• Bruce Marshall 

General Manager, Eglin Programs – MEI Technologies, Inc. 

• Ray McGovern

Senior Vice President, The McGovern Group / Merrill Lynch

• Tama Van Decar, M.D.

Chief Medical Officer, Fort Walton Beach Medical Center

Each member is dedicated to taking an active role in determining areas of greatest need and finding solutions. 

To learn more about the White-Wilson Community Foundation, its community health grants and work in our community, visit whitewilsoncommunityfoundation.org.
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Community White wilson community foundation Dr. Jack Azzaretto Little Black Dress Party Alan Gieseman Okaloosa County Health Department Run for the Health of it Virginia Glynn Barr
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