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Palm Beach woman champions children through foundation

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MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: Geri Emmett, 61

Helping the Girl Scouts. Replacing stolen bicycles. Filling a child’s backpack with school supplies.

These are some of the acts of giving that make Geri Emmett cherish her role as chairwoman of the Duffy’s Foundation.

“Each effort makes me feel very proud of our company and demonstrates what we can do collectively as a community,” said Emmett, 61, of Palm Beach.

Duffy’s Sports Grill has always focused on children with its weekly Kids Eat Free Wednesday menu special and support of youth sports, but Duffy’s is looking to make a bigger impact this school year. Duffy’s Sports Grill’s charitable arm, the Duffy’s Foundation, will provide support to children in Palm Beach County in a variety of ways during the back-to-school season.

The Duffy’s Foundation dedicated August to helping children through such back-to-school initiatives as the School Lunch Fairy, a local charity started by two high school students. This program raises emergency money for schoolchildren who have a negative balance on their lunch account.

“We cannot expect students to succeed in school if they cannot eat, and children should never go hungry,” Emmett said. “My hope is that we never turn away a student who cannot afford to eat lunch.”

The Duffy’s Foundation has also once again teamed up with Operation Backpack through a partnership with It Only Takes One charity to underwrite the cost for 1,000 backpacks. These backpacks will be filled with school supplies for students and distributed to various schools in Palm Beach County for children in need.

Emmett is the widow of Paul Emmett, the owner and president of Duffy’s. They were married for 30 years and raised three children: Jason, Alexander and Heather.

She left her position as cosmetics mogul Trish McEvoy’s marketing vice president in February and transitioned to a full-time leadership role as owner and chairwoman of the Duffy’s Foundation.

But the cause she’s been involved with the longest is the Girl Scouts, which moves her “to the core.”

The role models they provide in Scouting had a great influence on her.

“The organization’s motto matches my philosophy on life: Be prepared. A scout is always ready to help wherever she is needed, and I believe this mind-set is valuable throughout life.”

Who is your hero?

My late husband, Paul Emmett, is always my hero. He had his priorities in order — family first — and he cast a wide net on helping so many but always starting with family. He was ill for almost two years and used every bit of that time to put plans into place to ensure everyone would be as OK as they could be if something were to happen to him. He also mapped out decades of goal-setting for Duffy’s, as the company was his second family and he cared deeply for his employees and customers.

What is your favorite movie?

“Gone with the Wind” — who could ever forget Scarlett saying, “After all, tomorrow is another day”? My father-in-law, Jay Emmett, was president of Warner Communications, so watching movies is a beloved pastime for our family. We would never miss out on watching the James Bond films.

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy playing tennis. I have taken lessons for 10 years, yet I still feel like a beginner because I do not dedicate as much time to it as I should. I play at the local rec center in Palm Beach, where our youngest son attended camp.

If you could meet any person in history, who would it be and why?

I’d meet the people who made my life workable when I commuted from New York to Florida: the Wright brothers and Martin Cooper, the inventor of the first handheld cellphone.

What do you do to get away or take a break?

Spending an afternoon at the beach at the end of my block can make me feel like a new person. I make sure I look at the beach at least once a day to never forget the beauty and wonder of what nature offers us, as we are so lucky to live in Florida. On quite the opposite end, I am also lucky to travel to New York City frequently when I want a pure jolt of energy.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

My father always told me: “If you are concerned about making a wrong decision, list the worst possible outcomes for both sides and read it over for a few days. Don’t rush into anything that is life-altering.” I have always tried to live by this, and whenever I follow his advice I find he was right.

What event in history would you have liked to have witnessed?

When I became a widow and was reading a lot of self-help books, I learned that in 1974, Congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act. Before then, if a woman was widowed or divorced, she had to have a man cosign any credit application. I was in high school when this act passed, and at the time I don’t think I realized how impactful that would be for a woman.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

Every birthday, my siblings and I could choose our favorite meal, and my mother would make it for us. Mine was prime rib, and my mother still offers to make it for me to this day.

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