WALTON COUNTY, Fla. (WMBB) — All month long we are celebrating the Remarkable Women in the Panhandle that truly make a difference. These women were nominated by News 13 viewers and the finalists were selected by local judges.
Our final Remarkable Women finalist is Julie Porterfield. She is a local woman who has impacted the lives of thousands of children through her work with the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center.
Porterfield has only worked two places since the beginning of her professional career. But the roles she has held are responsible for creating a lasting legacy.
“I felt like there was a path for me and god was going to lead me but I had no idea,” she said.
Porterfield’s career began at the State Attorney’s office in the early ’80s. She started as a legal secretary before becoming a victim advocate.
“In 1992 we had a fairly significant child abuse case where a daycare’s owners had molested four or five little girls in the daycare,” she said. “So we worked through that case with those children. The man was convicted.”
The case opened her eyes to a need in the community.
“A group got together after that and thought this system was not created for children. It’s just not created for kids,” said Porterfield.
From that realization came the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center. It’s a safe place for children in Walton and Okaloosa counties who have been abused, neglected or assaulted. The center brings together all the services they need in one place.
“At the time the State Attorney said do whatever you can and help them,” she said. “I was in administration so I started writing the grants and helping with some of the hires and whatever they needed.”
That help turned into something much bigger. Julie Porterfield became the founding CEO of the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center. In 2000, they opened the first facility in Niceville.
“I worked a lot of hours — like 50-60 hours a week,” she said. “When I started there were three of us employees — so tackling all that.”
Julie was also a new mom at the time. This gave her a new perspective in the office, but it also made things challenging.
“At the time my son was two,” she said. “So I just remember when I was there a little late and there was a child in my office. It was a really bad case and they happened to tell me what happened. And you just listen, and I went home and I was like — ‘I don’t know if I can go back.”
But even on her toughest days, Porterfield said providing a support system for the kids keeps her motivated.
“The ones you do save, that hope and healing makes the difference of why we’re here and do the work we do,” she said.
It’s that mindset that led the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center to expand its reach. In 2016, they opened a second facility in DeFuniak Springs. But for Julie, this isn’t where the work stops.
“I’d love to hang a closed for business sign on both centers because children are all living free of abuse and neglect,” she said.
For women with ambitions like hers, Porterfield has a few words of advice.
“You have to believe that you can do it and that you’re valued,” she said.
As for what’s next for Porterfield, she said plans are in the works to renovate and improve the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center’s Niceville facility.