Eight Gold Star Families will soon make their way to The Original Vortex Spring in Ponce de Leon to take part in a “Ocean Conservation School.”

Force Blue is partnering with National Association of Underwater Instructors (NAUI) Worldwide and Angels for America’s Fallen to send eight Gold Star children to Holmes County to earn their diving certification and learn about why the fight to preserve and restore the world’s oceans and marine habitats is so important. Organizers say most importantly, the mission is to change the narrative for those who have lost a loved one in the line of military service.

Gold Star families are members of the club no one wants to belong to and because of that, they are more likely to feel anger, isolation, and despair. Should those feelings go unchecked, experts say they could lead to destructive behaviors. By giving these families a renewed sense of purpose and belonging, Force Blue aims to equip them with new skills and training to move ahead in a more positive direction. The idea is to take them from “at risk” to “on mission,” much in  the same way their loved ones operated in the military.

Over the course of four days participants will earn their open water dive certifications, complete a real-world clean up effort in Panama City Beach, complete a conservation study with “Blue Mind” author Dr. Wallace J. Nichols, and execute introduction and inclusion with Force Blue.

Force Blue representatives say these activities will help to reach the end goal of creating a cadre of future conservation leaders who are instilled with a profound sense of duty and service. Force Blue hopes to give all the participants a tangible way to honor the legacy of the servicemember they have lost.

NAUI Director of Armed Forces Ray Reneau says the hope is to make this an annual event. “We want this event to be an ongoing thing,” said Reneau. “The hope is to give these kids a new passion for diving and with that conservation.”

Participants are selected from nominees for each branch of the Armed Forces. There will be two families from each branch, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

The Original Vortex Spring Owner Angela Dockery says she is  thrilled to host the event. “This is such a huge honor for Vortex,” said Dockery. “We are so happy to be a part of the Force Blue family and to host these families here in Holmes County.”

The Otter Creek Lodge at The Original Vortex Spring will house the participating families, but the facility is currently under refurbishment due to heavy damage sustained by Hurricane Sally.

Dockery says they are looking for sponsors to help prepare the Otter Creek Lodge. “It would be great to have a contractor sponsor each room for the Gold Star Families,” said Dockery. “No matter what though, the rooms will be completed and in tip-top shape for those families, even if we have to do it ourselves.”

If you are interested in sponsoring a Gold Star family, the cost is $2,500 and will cover the four-day Force Blue Ocean Conservation School. All donations are tax deductible. 

The event is set for March 10-14 at The Original Vortex Spring. If you have questions or are interested in being a sponsor contact Angela Dockery at The Original Vortex Spring at 850-836-4979 or at Force Blue’s website at www.forceblueteam.org/OCS.

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