Seventeen-year-old twins Blane and Tyler Margaretten haven't even graduated high school yet, however they're the brains behind a new charity fundraiser that will help Okaloosa and Walton County families have a brighter, merrier Christmas.





It all started when they went to freshman orientation at Fort Walton Beach High School, where they were both urged to join the Leadership Program.



For the past 16 years, the program has run the Christmas Connection Project, which serves Okaloosa and Walton County families by providing food and toys to help bring a little extra holiday cheer. Last year, the project helped 114 families and 332 children.



"It's a 100 percent student-led program," said Tyler. "There are 230 students involved this year — kids can still make a difference."



As seniors, Blane and Tyler have seen how far a good deed will go in their four years with the Leadership Program.



"It's given me insight into how a group can set their minds to do something and accomplish it," said Blane. "It's also made a personal impact seeing the real need in our communities."



Through the Christmas Connection, more than 20,000 meals will be distributed during the holiday season. Students started delivering last week. And when it comes to making Christmas morning special for hundreds of children, the project goes beyond donating one toy. Instead, students work with families to buy the gifts children really want, spending $100 on each kid.



And it's not uncommon for students to go above and beyond presents.



"Last year the family I sponsored was sleeping on tile floors, so we donated beds," Tyler said. "Another student donated a washer and dryer to the family they sponsored."



Families from Crestview to Navarre to Santa Rosa Beach benefit from the Christmas Connection. And even though the two schools are football rivals, the program even supports Choctawhatchee students and their families.



Throughout the year, the Leadership Class raises money to fund the Christmas Connection. However, seeing a chance to raise even more, Blane and Tyler took it upon themselves to host a wine tasting at Crush in Seaside. The event will include hors d’oeuvres, live music courtesy of Geoff McBride and a silent auction featuring items such as art, vacations, and items from local shops. You can also purchase raffle tickets to get the chance to win a $100 Crush gift card.



“It’ll be good music and good food,” Blane said.



After years and countless hours of community services through the Leadership Program, Blane and Tyler said they will continue to give back as they enter college. They’ll even continue to help future Leadership students.



“Previous leaders usually come back to help on delivery nights,” said Blane. “We plan to be back during winter break to be available for help or any questions.”



The brothers have both earned Presidential Honor Award Scholarships totaling $120,000 each. Blane is planning to attend Tulane University in New Orleans, while Tyler is undecided. Wherever they end up, the skills they’ve attained will serve them well.



“We learned so much through the Leadership class,” Tyler said. “When I was a freshman, I never thought that I’d one day run a project”





 WANT TO GO? The wine tasting will be held at Crush, 25 Central Square, Seaside, from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 1. Tickets are $45 or $40 presale available at Crush. If you’d like to donate to the Christmas Connection program, contact Tyler at tmargaretten@yahoo.com or Blane at margarettenb@yahoo.com.