Innisfree Sponsors Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida

Innisfree Hotels strives to make a BIG impact in the communities where we do business. So when board members for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida approached founder and CEO Julian MacQueen to request Innisfree’s support in 2013, we were more than a LITTLE excited to help.

Innisfree’s Director of Development Rich Chism serves as a Big Brother for the organization, which pairs mentors (BIGS) with children in need (LITTLES). There is an ongoing need for male volunteers to match with children waiting for a mentor.

Most of the children served by BBBS live in single-parent households, according to the nonprofit’s Director of Marketing & Development, Natalie Chism. Some live with grandparents or other family members, and some with foster families.

“Each child’s circumstance is different, but there is one thing they all share in common – the need for a positive adult role model,” Chism says.

In order to accomplish that mission, BBBS hosts its annual ‘The BIG Gala’ in January of each year. Innisfree is a proud sponsor of the fundraising event, which is held at the Hilton Pensacola Beach – an Innisfree hotel. The venue allows the silent auction to be held outside the ballroom, creating a grand entrance to immerse guests in a new theme each year.

“This amazing event celebrates the many accomplishments of the mentors, children and staff of Big Brothers Big Sisters. Our sponsors are made up of an incredible group of local individuals and businesses that give their time and money to promote the good works of Big Brothers Big Sisters,” Chism says.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters matching process and services are critical to breaking the cycle of poverty and poor life choices. The cost of changing a child’s life is nothing compared to the cost of sending a child through the criminal justice system. For every 100 youth kept out of a juvenile facility, Escambia and Santa Rosa county taxpayers save three to six million dollars per year, Chism reports.

Big Brothers Big Sisters matches mentors with at-risk children. On average, it costs $1,000 to support one match for one year – roughly $2.74 per day. The cost of match services includes orientation, background screening, assessment, matching, case management, travel, activities, volunteer recruitment and match support.

The annual BIG Gala is Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida’s largest fundraising event of the year, helping the organization raise awareness for its primary needs. Every dollar raised stays local, supporting the agency and matching services for children.

The goals of the event include raising funds and awareness of the organization’s need for volunteers, sharing the impact of mentoring relationships in the community and educating the public on the various ways they can get involved.

In addition to attending The BIG Gala, consider giving of your time or talents.

“We always need volunteers who want to be matched with a child, but we know timing is always important in someone’s life,” Chism says.

If you can’t commit to becoming a Big Brother or Big Sister, you can still join a group called FRIENDS. These are people who help with events, tutor children and make new connections in the community – who only meet in person three or four times a year. You may also choose to make a monetary donation online.

For more information or to learn how you can get involved, please reach out to Natalie Chism at

– Ashley Kahn Salley
Lead Storyteller, Innisfree Hotels

Dixon Dub Lip Sync Battle Raises $60,000 for School of the Arts

On Friday, September 9, 2016, Innisfree Hotels’ Corporate Social Responsibility program, The Hive, together with its sponsors, presented Dixon Dub – an epic lip sync battle benefiting Pensacola’s Dixon School of the Arts.

Teams battled it out for the title of lip-synching champion as excited crowds dined on fun, themed concessions like ‘Cheesy Love Song’ cheeseburgers and ‘Tonight We Call Soda … Pop” while cheering on their favorites.

Walker AV ensured the quality of all music and video. Brent Lane of Cat Country 98.7 emceed the first-time event to a delighted audience, and esteemed judges Sue Straughan of WEAR-TV3, Michael Carro of SVN Southland Commercial Real Estate Group, Attorney Aaron Watson of the Watson Firm, and President of the Greater Pensacola Chamber and Florida Representative the Honorable Clay Ingram scored teams on their performances to select the Grand Prize Winner of a three-night stay at the beautiful Hilton Pensacola Beach.

The audience had a say, too. Crowds purchased tickets to vote for their favorite performers of the night. And there were many great acts to keep everyone laughing and cheering.

Teams included:

  • Navy Federal Credit Union’s ‘Jermaine & the Uptown Girls” performing “Uptown Funk”
  • The Hilton’s ‘Beliebers’ with Justin Bieber’s “Sorry”
  • Red Fish Blue Fish’s ‘Yum Fish Chew’ with “Foil” by Weird Al
  • Bullock Tice Associates’  ‘Salt-N-Ginja’ performing “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa
  • Hilton Garden Inn of Pascagoula’s ‘Ghoula Ghouls’ with a mash-up of “Hit the Quan,” “Cha-Cha Slide” and “Poker Face”
  • Dixon School of the Arts’ ‘So Fresh’ with “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”
  • Presenting sponsor Gulf Power’s ‘Amped Up’ with a mash-up of “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and “Uptown Funk”
  • Holiday Inn Resort’s ‘Deuce Tre’ with “Live Your Life” by T.I. and Rihanna, and
  • Travelodge Pensacola Beach’s ‘Travelodge Survivors’ with “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child.

The audience was also treated to special live performances from the scholars of Dixon School of the Arts singing “Ghostbusters” and new executive director of the Lamont Community School of Music Miguel Aldohondo, Jr. singing “Bessame Mucho” accompanied by Attorney Jim Green of Clark Partington Hart, an event sponsor.

In the end, it was clear both the audience and the judges loved those feel good, get-you-dancin’ songs of the summer. It was ALL about the funk.

The Grand Prize Winner was Gulf Power’s ‘Amped Up’ with “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and “Uptown Funk,” while Navy Federal’s ‘Jermaine & the Uptown Girls’ won the People’s Choice Award for their rendition of “Uptown Funk.”

On behalf of the scholars at Dixon School of the Arts, we are grateful to our generous sponsors:

  • Presenting Sponsors: Gulf Power and Robins & Morton
  • Adrian Caradine Contract Design, Inc.
  • Richard and Laverne Baker
  • BBVA Compass
  • Beggs and Lane
  • Brix Design
  • Bullock Tice Associates
  • John Brewer
  • Byrd Campbell LLC
  • Caldwell Associates
  • Cary & Co.
  • Cat Country 98.7
  • Centennial Bank
  • Clark Partington
  • Cox Pools
  • Dansbyland
  • Edgecomb Furniture
  • Edward Jones
  • Emmanuel, Sheppard & Condon
  • Floral Tree Gardens
  • Hospitality Solutions
  • Illuminations
  • Imbry & Associates
  • Joseph Interiors
  • Kellex Seating
  • Larry Batchelor Mechanical
  • Lazy Days Beach Rentals
  • Levin Rinke Realty
  • MC2 Printing
  • Mirabel Photography
  • Navy Federal Credit Union
  • Pali Hospitality
  • Perdido Beach Service
  • Price Services
  • Qualified Marketing Service
  • RHH
  • Saltmarsh Cleaveland & Gund
  • Shell, Fleming, Davis & Menge
  • Telos Furniture
  • Trustmark Bank
  • WAS Design

We also would like to thank all the volunteers and Innisfree staff who came out to support Dixon Dub, without whom the event would not have been possible.

Innisfree Hotels first became involved with Dixon School of the Arts when it was a struggling charter school, in jeopardy of closing. Founder and CEO Julian MacQueen and wife Kim took a special interest in the school, which inspired employees of the hotel company to ‘adopt’ the school – each property taking on clean-up, tutoring and mentorship of a different classroom.

Over time, Innisfree has worked to find new and exciting ways to raise funds and awareness for Dixon School of the Arts, a private K-8 school with a STEAM curriculum that enhances science, technology, engineering and math with a broad fine arts education. Students enjoy hands-on classes in photography, music, dance, yoga, visual arts and more, often embarking on field trips outside of the school building to engage and enlighten.

One of our guiding principles is to ‘have fun’,” say our founders, Julian and Kim MacQueen. “Raising funds for Dixon School of the Arts in such a fun way will send a happy and powerful message to the kids that they are cared about in the larger community – and that their beloved programs will continue to grow.”

– Ashley Kahn Salley
Lead Storyteller, Innisfree Hotels

Innisfree Hotels Supports Youth Development at YMCA

Innisfree Hotels, YMCA NWFL

There’s no need to feel down. Pensacola, Florida is getting a new YMCA.

At Innisfree Hotels, we believe in strengthening communities. That’s why Innisfree has supported the YMCA of Northwest Florida‘s youth development programs for the past five years.

The YMCA of Northwest Florida hosts an after school program for 12 area schools, where 40 percent of the families whose children attend are unable to afford the cost of the program, according to executive director Michael Bodenhausen.

“Last year, we gave out right at half a million dollars in subsidized programming, and each business including Innisfree that has donated makes a big difference in the lives of those youngsters,” Bodenhausen says. “These kids need a place to stay after school, one that is safe and educational, with a focus on health and wellness.”

At the day camps, after school programs and in swimming lessons, the YMCA provides those opportunities so parents don’t have to worry about their children when the school day ends and can stay at work to provide for their families.

“We have physical activities, because unfortunately those are being cut from the school system, and we teach kids what is good to eat,” Bodenhausen says. “We have tutoring, as we are trying to get all kids to an appropriate reading level. And we have fun while we’re doing it.”

The new Y – a 52,000 sq. ft. facility with 4,200 sq. ft. of rehabilitation and 9,000 sq. ft. of fitness space – will celebrate its grand opening in January 2017.

It will feature a gymnasium and two pools, one therapeutic, with the only slide in the region for persons with disabilities. An elevator will lift children and adults to the top of the slide, so those who have never been able to utilize a slide can enjoy the experience.

In addition to an annual sponsorship of youth programs, Innisfree Hotels Director of Development Rich Chism gave his time and energy during the initial planning stages of the new Y, including a great deal of help with the RFP and design process.

Mike Nixon, President of Innisfree Hotels, met with Bodenhausen regarding operations and instilling a sense of guest engagement throughout the organization.

“Innisfree believes in the Y’s goal to provide opportunities to youth for growth and development regardless of their income or background,” Nixon says.

Bodenhausen says now is the time to join the YMCA of NWFL, as current members can lock in the current rate for 18 months after the new facility opens.

To learn more about the YMCA and youth programs, please visit the YMCA website or call (850) 438-4406.

– Ashley Kahn Salley
Lead Storyteller, Innisfree Hotels 

Innisfree Builds Hotels – and Houses

Innisfree Hotels, Habitat for Humanity

Innisfree Hotels may best be known for building hotels on beautiful beaches. Yet the hotel company is also building community – through donations to nonprofit organizations near its headquarters in Northwest Florida.

Since 2012, Innisfree has helped Pensacola Habitat for Humanity build more than 36 houses for families in need through a Florida tax credit program by which local sales tax stays local.

The program has been around since the 1980s, according to Habitat’s Director of Corporate and Community Relations Sue Evans. Habitat for Humanity began using it in the late 90s, and the local office in 2002. Since then, the organization has benefited from over $11 million in donated sales tax receipts from companies like Innisfree, whose $1.6 million contribution amounts to 13.8% of the money available in Escambia County through the program.

In the 2014 program year, Evans says $3.2 million came to Habitat in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties, for a total of 17 percent of the monies available statewide.

“People talk about our tax money going to Tallahassee, but this is a way for us to see it again,” Evans says. “Our legislators have to fight to pass it each year.”

Innisfree Hotels is among the top tax credit sponsors of Pensacola Habitat for Humanity, building 32 houses in the last four years, with another four on the horizon.

By law, the tax credit program requires a commitment of 200 volunteer hours. If a company is unable to pledge its employees to fulfill them, Habitat can find other companies, or retired and military volunteers to complete the work days on its behalf.

Yet even before construction begins, there’s a lot of time that goes into completing applications, cutting checks and making occasional calls to the Department of Revenue. That’s what makes sponsors like Innisfree so special, according to Evans.

“Julian MacQueen and Brooks Moore have the ‘busy-ness’ of running their business, and yet they do this so the community can benefit,” she says. “It means a lot. I love the tax credit program, I love the companies that participate … and I love Innisfree.”

Moore is thrilled for Innisfree Hotels to be a part of this life-changing program.

“I can think of very few things that are more rewarding than helping local citizens and neighbors realize the dream of home ownership,” he says.

In June 2016, Innisfree’s Chief Marketing Officer Jill Thomas sat on the panel of Habitat for Humanity’s Community Summit to share a presentation about Corporate Social Responsibility.

Innisfree Hotels formally established a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) program in 2015 called The Hive, a busy place for the Innisfree family to connect with each other while doing good for others.

“At Innisfree Hotels, we are committed to bettering the communities where we live and work, leading by example to inspire other companies to do the same,” Thomas says. “The tax credit program benefiting Habitat for Humanity is a wonderful opportunity for local businesses to enhance quality of life right here at home.”

After all, what is more important than home?

To learn more about the program, please visit the local Habitat for Humanity website.

To learn more about the CSR program of Innisfree Hotels, please visit our Hive webpage.

– By Ashley Kahn Salley
Lead Storyteller, Innisfree Hotels

‘From the Ground Up’ Garden Grows Opportunity for Persons with Disabilities

Jeff’s Corner Garden, Pensacola FL

When Innisfree Hotels planted the seed for its ‘From the Ground Up’ garden, the company never could have dreamed of the types of opportunities it could grow. Just two seasons into harvesting sustainable crops, the garden carved out a corner for a new partner – Jeff Shell and family – to house Jeff’s Corner Garden.

The Shell family is no stranger to Innisfree Hotels, having begun working in the garden through the non-profit organization Upward Intuition, a project Jeff’s brother Jon created to inspire area youth. His skate team has volunteered in the garden since the beginning. (In fact, the Shells have been working with the City of Pensacola to gain access to a piece of land adjacent to the garden to create a multi-use facility and the City’s first skate park through the non-profit.)

So when Jeff received a grant from RESPECT of Florida to fund a business concept based on growing organic vegetables and selling them to local restaurants, Innisfree’s ‘From the Ground Up’ garden was a natural fit.

“At the end of the day, Jeff’s self-employment is what matters most, and we have a sustainable model that allows him to be successful and continue to grow and work as he enjoys,” Jon says.

Jon feels it an honor and privilege to work with the people at Innisfree and the Hive, the company’s corporate social responsibility program. Closely aligned missions give way to tremendous potential not only for growth, but for improving the quality of life and health for those in the community.

“This is just the beginning, and we are excited to see how this next year unfolds,” Jon says.

His brother, Jeff, concurs. We spoke to Jeff from the PSC Campus of the PALS Program of ARC Gateway. Since beginning Jeff’s Corner Garden in late 2015, he has already secured an additional garden location. Having planted more than 2,000 seeds so far, Jeff says it’s really fun to watch a seed grow from a tiny little thing into a big plant.

In January 2016, interns from the PALS Program – adults with learning disabilities – will see what it’s like to run a garden, under the mentorship of Jeff.

Job Coach Melody Hinson of the PALS Program shares: “This gives our students an opportunity to learn new things and experience things they may or may not have done before, and it also gives them an opportunity to put those skill sets to use, helping us help them find a job at the end of the program. By actually working at the garden, they will be able to find out if they like or love doing this. And Jeff may want to hire them. That is an awesome thing.”

“I’m really excited about that … I wanted to work with students with disabilities for a long time,” Jeff says. “I’m gonna help out as much as I can.”

He has already helped so much.

Transforming a Hotel Lobby into an Art Gallery

Innisfree’s Modern Contemporary Children’s Art Gallery

The stylish, social lobby of the Hilton Pensacola Beach has always been beautiful – with bright whites and cool blues like harbingers of the water and sand just beyond its back door. In 2015, it became even more beautiful when the Hilton created a children’s art gallery in Pensacola Beach, Fla., displaying work by students from Dixon School of the Arts.

Visiting artists-in-residence to Dixon from Atlanta, Ga., Lisa Puzon and Shaughnessy Johnson had been sponsored by Innisfree Hotels to attend a workshop on arts integration with the Florida Alliance for Arts Education. While there, Puzon says, they were particularly inspired by one museum featuring children’s work from summer art camps.

Realizing there were no children’s galleries in Pensacola, the two suggested to Hilton General Manager Gina Dudley that the hotel lobby would be a wonderful venue for displaying such work.

And the walls went up.

The first exhibit features four projects from the 2015-2016 Dixon school year: Photography, Ink & Paper, Wire Art and Nail Art.

The students have been studying the elements and principles of art,” Puzon says. “These projects were designed to provide ways in which they can express them through different art forms.”

The Hilton has provided an important place for Dixon students to showcase their incredible work. As the hotel installed the exhibit, guests were inquisitive – watching and asking questions, and even taking photographs of their own.

“Everyone was amazed that 4th through 8th graders created the work,” Puzon shares. “The Innisfree Gallery for Children has made a great impact by connecting hotel guests with a school from an underserved community and creating a bridge through the arts.”

All proceeds from the sale of artwork benefit Innisfree Hotels’ ongoing fundraising efforts for Dixon School of the Arts, a project of significance to Innisfree’s Corporate Social Responsibility Program, The Hive.

“Innisfree has sponsored us as resident artists to teach at Dixon School of the Arts for the past four years,” Johnson explains. “Each year we witnessed the students showing increased confidence and higher self-esteem, alongside growing aptitudes and advancing skill levels.”

View Innisfree’s Modern Contemporary Art Gallery in the lobby of the Hilton Pensacola Beach. Learn more about our work with Dixon School of the Arts here.

There’s Something Fishy Going On

Fish Art Fundraiser Supports Innisfree-Sponsored Dixon School of the Arts

If you walk into the gift shop at the Hilton Pensacola Beach, you might notice something fishy. The colorful fish that hang happily on hooks at our beachfront hotel have a story to tell. They were created by 5th through 7th graders at Dixon School of the Arts, the same school their sale will support.

Lisa Puzon and Shaughnessy Johnson serve as Dixon’s annual artists in residence, sponsored by Innisfree Hotels to travel from Atlanta to share their talents. Early in 2015, the duo taught a class using local clay as a medium and means to celebrate the history and habitats of Florida – a theme the school adopted for the year. The masks and fish students created out of clay were displayed at Dixon’s Gallery Night, which Innisfree founder and CEO Julian MacQueen and his wife, Kim, attended.

The fish, in particular, caught the MacQueen’s collective eyes. With an eye for art and a heart for charity, they commissioned a school of clay fish for the Hilton as a fundraiser for Dixon – the school Innisfree Hotels has supported since the time of its original charter.

“The students are aware that the proceeds will support the Visual Arts program in their school,” Puzon said. “This is an excellent way to show the students how to apply the arts in real life.”

Each bold and beautiful fish is named for his or her creator. Angela is a student with a delicate style, but confidence in her craft and colors. Dasya is quiet, yet eager to explore and experiment, which shows in the wide fins her fish possesses. Toni has a simple but sophisticated style, combining plain shapes with complex textures. A meticulous painter, Zuria loves bold design and bright colors. Martavion uses textures and shapes to create a design that is not only visually pleasing, but also makes you want to touch it.

Guided by Puzon and Johnson, and with help from talented student assistants Kalani and Jaylyn, the team of five recreated their designs to be casted and marketed in the Hilton’s gift shop. Funds raised from their purchase will support Dixon’s Visual Arts program to broaden learning and experience, encompassing visits to museums and other art events and venues, scholarships for special art classes outside the school, art materials and more.

You only need to visit for a day to see that all the teachers and staff take pride in their school and are committed to creating a safe and loving environment that is open to learning and flourishing,” Johnson says of Dixon School of the Arts.

The artists in residence hope this fundraiser is only the beginning of support and sponsorship opportunities that will allow Dixon to display its blossoming talents. For Innisfree’s part, the Hilton Pensacola Beach gift shop will provide an ongoing venue to display and sell student artwork.

That’s one special ‘Catch of the Day.’

Endowing Education: UWF Hospitality Degree

The program will be renamed The MacQueen Guest Experience Program.

Julian and Kim MacQueen, founders of Innisfree Hotels, pledged a $250,000 gift commitment to the University of West Florida Hospitality program.

This mutually beneficial partnership will enable UWF hospitality students to participate in onsite training, internships and field experiences at Innisfree Hotels properties located Pensacola Beach, Fla. and Orange Beach, Ala.

In turn, Innisfree will benefit from having a future workforce locally trained and integrated within the corporate culture. The partnership will also allow UWF to develop a more unified hospitality curriculum, designed to address current identified industry needs.

There are currently more than 200 students enrolled in the Hospitality, Recreation and Resort Management program at UWF. Recent partnerships, including the MacQueen gift and the direct-admit program with Northwest Florida State College are expected to increase the enrollment to more than 350 students by 2015.

“At Innisfree, we live and breathe our core principles, and believe that if you give people purpose, they’ll do a whole lot with it,” said Julian MacQueen, at a press conference hosted by UWF to announce the donation.

Innisfree believes in hiring for attitude and then teaching the skill. Mr. and Mrs. MacQueen are honored to support the hospitality faculty at UWF, and to bolster their efforts to foster excellence among subsequent generations of hospitality industry leaders.

Follow this link for additional information about the MacQueen Guest Experience Management program.

Students Rewarded With Pool Party

Students from Dixon School of the Arts were rewarded for academic improvement with a pool party sponsored by Innisfree Hotels

Students from Dixon School of the Arts were rewarded for good behavior and academic improvement on Sunday with a pool party sponsored by Innisfree Hotels. The charter school, which opened in 2010, had the greatest improvement in FCAT test scores out of all Escambia County School District schools in 2011, with a gain of almost 178 points. “It’s almost shakingly scary, in a good way, to see the potential of where we’re going,” said LuTimothy May, the school’s executive director. “The sky’s the limit.”

The school recently changed its name from A.A. Dixon Charter School of Excellence, something May said is a reflection of new strategies and changes in the way learning is approached at Dixon. “We did a massive transformation over this year, and this summer,” May said. “Of course, our charter speaks to the arts, so we wanted to speak to what we represent. We represent art — music, dance, theater, drama, all of those areas are part of what you get at Dixon School of the Arts.”

After the school struggled for two years academically and financially and faced the possibility of being closed by the state of Florida, May said that he wants to be positive and focus on how far the students have come. Innisfree Hotels, which adopted Dixon School of the Arts three years ago, promised students a pool party if they improved their test scores last year. The party featured access to pools at three Pensacola Beach hotels, hamburgers and hot dogs, face painting and rides on the 360 Pensacola Beach Observation Wheel.

“They deserved it,” said Marianne Tibbits, Convention Services Manager at the Hilton Penascola Beach Hotel and event coordinator for the party. “They worked hard. It’s a thank you for last year, and also an incentive to keep up the good work.”

Kalesha Brabley, 21, attended the party with her son, Treven, a kindergartener at Dixon.  “It’s a wonderful school,” she said. “They really work with him.”

Kendesha Woods, 35, has two children at the school, and he said they enjoy the learning experience at a charter school.
“Both of them come home talking about their day, every day,” Woods said. “I think they get more one-on-one time.”

His wife, Shenika Johnson, 31, teaches second grade at Dixon. She said that she is very encouraged and excited about the upcoming school year for all students. “I know that there’s a lot in store for our kids, and I just can’t wait to see what’s going to happen,” Johnson said. “I am more than confident that they will advance.”