From the Heart: Toasting Educational Outreach


Lake Oconee Food and Wine Festival has contributed more than $1 million to local youth programs over the past decade.

Every March, crowds flow into The Ritz-Carlton Reynolds, Lake Oconee for the annual Lake Oconee Food and Wine Festival – a weekend-long celebration of gourmet food, fine libations, and grand fun. Most importantly, however, is the contributions this popular event makes throughout the Lake Oconee community.   

The mission of the Lake Oconee Food and Wine Festival is to sponsor and support educational and community programs for youth in the lake area. Since 2008, the festival has contributed more than $1.2 million dollars to local youth programs. 

“The board and volunteers of Lake Oconee Food and Wine Festival is proud of the impact this event has brought to the local community for the past 11 years,” says Teresa Doster, chair of the festival’s board of directors. “We are thankful to all who join in the fun each year while helping young people build a better future.”

Now in its 11th year, the festival has selected the following six youth programs to be the beneficiaries of this year’s proceeds. 

For more information on the festival and its beneficiaries, visit

Camp Southern Ground is founded on the premise that individual differences make us stronger when we come together. Summer camp at CSG serves children ages 7-17, from all socioeconomic backgrounds, races, and religions, with programs that challenge, educate, and inspire. An inclusive camp, they bring together typically developing children; children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, learning and attention issues, such as ADHD, and dyslexia, and social or emotional challenges; under-served youth; and those with family members who have served in the military, particularly kids of fallen service members who died while serving or by suicide. More than just a week away from home, summer camp at Camp Southern Ground can truly change a child’s life. During the remaining nine months of the year, Camp Southern Ground continues its dedication to supporting veterans with transition programs focused on discovery, healing, and growth.

Ferst Readers mission is to strengthen communities by providing quality books and literacy resources for children and their families to use at home during the earliest stages of development. Children in the program receive a bookstore-quality, age-specific book and resources every month until their fifth birthday.

Gatewood Schools is a Christian College prep school preparing students (pre-K – 12th grade) for college and lifelong success. The mission of Gatewood Schools is to educate students in a nurturing, Christian environment while instilling life-long characteristics of faith, truth, honor, loyalty, and pride.

Oconee Performing Arts Society’s mission is to enrich and educate the Lake Oconee community through the performing arts. OPAS provides several performing arts programs for Lake Oconee area students throughout the school year and has just completed its second year of the OPAS Community Youth Chorus.

The Plaza Arts Center’s mission is to promote interest and participation in the visual and performing arts by providing programs and facilities for community and regional involvement, education, and enjoyment. The Plaza Arts Center provides after school art programs for Putnam County children ages 4 and up.   

Young Life is an interdenominational Christian outreach that ministers to adolescents in the community and helps them grow in their faith. Young Life leaders currently mentor hundreds of middle school and high school students from six lake area schools.  

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