Shelter House Executive Director Michelle Sperzel created the Purses with a Purpose event on a very productive run.

"We had just received a large purse donation that was brought to the emergency shelter, and it just lifted the confidence of the women," she said. "I thought, how can I take that idea and continue to rebuild confidence?"

And so in 2009, Shelter House presented its first Purses with a Purpose fundraiser, which has now become a signature event.

The fun begins on Friday, March 22 at Silver Sands Premium Outlets at from 6 to 8 p.m. and continues to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can browse through and purchase new and gently used purses, which are donated from local stores and individual donors. The event will also include a silent auction, wine and food courtesy of Carrabba's.

"The underlying message is about building yours and another woman's self-confidence," Sperzel said. "It is an event about women helping women."

The purses are also symbolic, Sperzel said, because often women show up to the emergency shelter with no other possession, but a handbag.

Shelter House is the only state-certified domestic violence center serving domestic violence victims of Okaloosa and Walton counties. The shelter supports women by providing a confidential shelter, court advocacy, peer counseling, support groups, primary prevention, transitional housing, economic empowerment workshops, 24-hour crisis hotline and child therapy services. One hundred percent of proceeds raised at Purses with a Purpose go right back to supporting those victims.

"When people give here, it stays here," Sperzel said.

Shelter House also helps to prevent domestic violence by promoting healthy relationships to kids.

"We're investing in local future and teaching them empowerment," Sperzel said.

In her six years as executive director, Sperzel said she has been humbled to see how quickly her community answers the needs of Shelter House. From donating food and toiletries to the emergency shelter to participating in events, she said the only word she can think to describe her feelings is “grateful.”

"The community is so responsive to the needs of women and children," she said. "It's amazing to witness a positive change in people's live and to be a part of that change."

 Want to go?

Purses with a Purpose is Friday, March 22 from 6 to 8 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Silver Sands Premium Outlets, located at 10562 Emerald Coast Pkwy. Join the VIP party on Friday; with a $5 donation, you can have first pick of purses, door prizes, food and beverages. New and used purse donations are accepted all year. For more information on the event, call 243-1201.