Local real estate broker Hannah Martin’s La Lumiere Foundation has raised $285,000 in donations over the last five years and was a key figure in helping Freeport’s newly-opened Westonwood Ranch become a reality.

FREEPORT — The birthday party Hannah Martin threw in 2014 was one for the ages.


It was at the beach, first off, which is always a good start.


Now throw in a bonfire, crawfish boil, live DJ and 300-or-so people and you start to get the picture.


In the aftermath, though, there was a moment Martin couldn’t shake off.


"At the end of the night, there were all these gifts," Martin said. "And I had no idea where all of them came from, which made me feel bad. It also made me feel like it was unnecessary (to bring gifts) because all I wanted to do was have fun and be around my friends.


"So I thought, ‘What if you had a birthday party and all of these people just came without gifts?’ And it just kind of sat in my head for awhile."


Like a lot of big ideas that come into Martin’s head, it didn’t stay an idea for very long.


Fast forward five years and Martin’s birthday party, held over several days in the second week of February, is now one of the area’s biggest fundraising events and her La Lumiere Foundation has raised $285,000 for places like Walton County Special Olympics, South Walton Academy and Westonwood Ranch in that time.


It turned out Martin was just as good at philanthropy as she was at her chosen career, where she’s sold or assisted in the sale of some $300 million in real estate over the last 11 years and went to work for Erin Oden’s Coastal Luxury Real Estate as a broker associate in Jan. 2019.


Westonwood founder Lindy Wood has seen the results of Martin’s giving firsthand.


"I had this idea in my head, and I really thought if I could get somebody else to see what I envisioned that it might work," said Westonwood founder Lindy Wood. "So I had to sell someone on that vision and mission for Westonwood and what I thought it could be, but all I had at that time was an idea to present.


"Hannah was the first person who said ‘I feel your heart behind this and I want to support you,’ and that made such a huge difference. At that time, we were trying to launch our capital campaign and she helped lay that foundation by introducing us to the community and rallying support through the relationships she already had in place. It was absolutely instrumental in getting things going for us … Hannah has such a big heart."


Westonwood Ranch opened its campus in Aug. 2019 as a holistic learning program for individuals with development differences, with an emphasis on teaching teenagers and young adults job skills and life skills for independent living.


Martin’s foundation has donated $50,000 to Westonwood over the last two years.


Wood’s son, Weston, is 9 years old. He’s severely autistic and served as the inspiration for Westonwood, which has an 11-acre campus with a 5,800-square-foot educational building with a cutting-edge sensory room, art studio, exercise room, technology center and life-skills classroom. There’s also a 3,200-square-foot aquaponics greenhouse, equine center and a small farm of animals that include goats, potbelly pigs and alpacas.


"We have a big focus on life-skill training and transitional services," said Westonwood Executive Director Kelly Thompson. "Our hope is to create a path to more independence and more jobs for these individuals so they can interact more, on their own, in our community and the surrounding communities."


And it all started with a party.


When Martin’s former boss, Jimbo Holloway, wanted her help to raise seed money for Special Olympics in Walton County in 2015, his advice was to go around to all the title companies and construction companies to ask for donations.


"So I’m like ‘OK, I’ll go do it,’ then as I was getting in my car it was just like … absolutely not," Martin said. "I’m going to throw my birthday party, get some cocktails in people and get some money."


Martin put the first party together in two weeks with the help of her friend, Crystal Smith, and her company, 30-A Event Planning.


One friend donated a crawfish boil. One friend donated leftover liquor from a wedding. One friend agreed to DJ for free.


Country music star Luke Bryan, who Martin sold a house to on Santa Rosa Beach, donated concert tickets.


The goal was to raise $5,000 … they hit $15,000.


In year two, the foundation added Jessica Proffitt Bracken’s Miramar Beach-based Proffitt PR team to help promote the event, which Martin called a "huge force behind our success."


"I don’t really feel like I can say (the party) is 100% my doing anymore," Martin said. "Because I look to so many people to help me and we have such a generous community we live in. I can’t take credit for it because so many people donate and so many people help out. It’s really a community effort at this point."


An effort that doesn’t stop – Martin was brainstorming ideas for next year’s party with Wood and Thompson last week at Westonwood and, like most of Martin’s big ideas, it won’t be long before it becomes a reality.


"One of the most important things to me is my time," Martin said. "It’s the one thing I have, really, that I’m certain I can’t get any more of when it’s gone. So when I saw what (Wood) was doing with her time, that was so wonderful to me. What she’s done (at Westonwood) is so selfless … it’s for her son and it’s for other families who have children with special needs who don’t have the opportunities to come to a place like this.


"Not only did she think it up, she actually built it. She literally sat down one night and thought of a way she was going to give her son the best life possible, then she went out and did it. When we were standing out at the (greenhouse) earlier and walked back across to the other buildings, it’s kind of surreal because the first time we were standing out here a few years ago, it was just the farm. Nothing else.


"To see the kids working with Lindy and the instructors and teachers … just to see all of them giving their hearts to make this thing work is an indescribable, beautiful feeling."