Meet Our Team

The Emerald Coast Convention Center is a modern, fully-equipped venue and so much more. Our professional staff of meeting and event planners is at the heart of what sets us apart.

Meet our team and discover why the convention center is the premier place to hold conventions, trade shows, and performances as well as athletic and military events. When you work with our team expect exceptional service with unlimited planning support and coordination to ensure your event is a resounding success.

Melissa Read

General Manager

mread@myokaloosa.com

Melissa Read has enjoyed a career in the hospitality industry for the past thirty years in sales, marketing, and management positions with companies that include Marriott Hotels, American Golf Corporation, and the Naples Beach Hotel & Golf Club.

Originally from Maryland, Melissa and her husband first moved to Florida’s Emerald Coast in 1992 where she worked in food and beverage with Sandestin Resort before becoming a member of the opening management team for Watercolor Resort. In 1996, Melissa and her husband moved to the United Kingdom to oversee country clubs for American Golf, living in Nottingham and Cornwall.

The opportunity to join the team at the Emerald Coast Convention Center and once again call the Emerald Coast home was a dream come true. Melissa is thrilled to showcase her operational experience and sales expertise to help make the convention center a destination for companies and groups from afar, so they can experience Emerald Coast hospitality for themselves. She is a member of Meeting Planners International (MPI) and Florida Society of Association Executives (FSAE).

Travel is a passion of hers but only for vacation from now on, as she has lived in 10 different locations over the years.

Tisha Maraj

Convention Sales Manager

tmaraj@myokaloosa.com

Tisha Maraj has been in the hospitality industry for most of her career. She’s traveled the country working as a sales/marketing professional in many destination markets including Albuquerque, Virginia Beach, and Atlanta. Tisha fell in love with the sugar-white sand and emerald-green waters while visiting Destin on business. The incredible natural beauty of the Emerald Coast and the warm, friendly people meant she found her permanent home. Her enthusiasm for the area is what drives her to capture new group business, so more people can delight in our paradise.

Tisha is a member of MPI, PCMA, Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI), and several Chambers of Commerce in the area. She also serves on the board of Directors for Musical Echoes, Inc., a nonprofit organization that produces an annual Native American Flute and Art Festival with the Indian Temple Mound as the backdrop. Tisha is a Certified Meeting Planner and is passionate about continuing her education in the meetings and events industry.

Rachel Borgie

Convention Sales Manager

rborgie@myokaloosa.com

Rachel Borgie is a Virginia native who moved to the Emerald Coast with her husband in September 2016. After years of working in the hospitality industry, they have decided to make Fort Walton Beach their permanent home, trading the Blue Ridge Mountains for beautiful sugar white sands and all the local flavors of the Emerald Coast. With a degree in Talking Your Ear Off, better known as Communications, Rachel brings a new and exciting energy to sales and event planning and is sure to help everyone create experiences their attendees will remember.

When she is not providing fantastic customer service at the ECCC, Rachel fills her free time with baking, wedding planning, and catching the latest season of “The Bachelor.”

Aline Ibanes

Convention Sales Manager

aibanes@myokaloosa.com

Aline Ibanes is an experienced sales professional who has been working in the hospitality industry for 21 years. She has great customer service skills and absolutely loves assisting her clients in planning their events. She speaks fluent Spanish as well as Portuguese, her native language, which helps to break the language barrier.

Aline holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Tourism and Hospitality from Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil.

In her free time, she enjoys the beach, teaching the youth group at her church, watching movies, and spending time with her Yorkie, Lilly.

Heather Lightsey, CMP, CVP

Event Supervisor

hlightsey@myokaloosa.com

For as long as she can remember, Heather has enjoyed creating innovative event ideas, often putting together inspiration boards for different events in her loved ones’ lives as soon as she was old enough to handle a set of crayons. After searching through various career paths, Heather found herself enrolled in the hospitality program at The University of Alabama, where she was able to take her love of creative event concepts and transform it into a budding career. She served on executive boards for various hospitality organization and interned with local event professionals until, after acquiring her degree, she followed her passion to the beautiful beaches of Destin, Florida, where she joined the team at the Emerald Coast Convention Center in 2014. Heather quickly proved herself to be a dedicated member of the team, volunteering to coordinate the more challenging, high profile events held in the venue, while also developing and implementing fresh, new ideas for both clients and staff. In 2017, Heather was promoted to Events Supervisor, where she now manages a team of three Event Services staff.

Heather is an active member of Event Service Professionals Association (ESPA) and the International Association of Venue Managers (IAVM). She completed IAVM’s Venue Management School in 2017 and has received both her Certified Meetings Professional (CMP) and Certified Venue Professional (CVP) certifications.

In her spare time, Heather enjoys embracing her inner Ina Garten by throwing dinner parties and trying new recipes.

Stephanie Weston

Event Coordinator

sweston@myokaloosa.com

Stephanie Weston is an Event Coordinator at the Emerald Coast Convention Center where she works with meeting and event planners to ensure successful execution of their events. She has years of experience working in hotels and planning conferences across the country for a non-profit association. Stephanie was born and raised in the great state of Texas and is a proud graduate of Texas A&M University.

Rachel Nichols

Event Coordinator

rnichols@myokaloosa.com

Rachel Nichols is an Event Coordinator at the Emerald Coast Convention Center who moved to the area from Spokane, Washington. Upon graduating with her Hospitality and Tourism Management degree, she worked for four years at the convention and visitors bureau in Spokane. She has extensive experience working with national meeting planners, hotel room blocks and customer service.

Ginger Weathers

Event Services Specialist

vweathers@myokaloosa.com

After graduating from Oklahoma State University in 2016, Ginger Weathers could think of no better place to look for a job than her hometown of Fort Walton Beach, FL. She graduated with a degree in Business Management focusing on Nonprofit Management. Having completed internships as a Summer Camp Coordinator and as an event intern at the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation, Ginger found her penchant for working and organizing events. Her internship at DCWAF led to a position at a local charity, but she decided to return to working events when she joined the event staff at the ECCC.

When she’s not working as the Events Services Specialist, Ginger enjoys kayaking, spending time with her family, knitting, singing in her church choir, and traveling around the world. Her long term goal is to visit all 50 states by the age of 50. At last count she has visited 24 states.

Darrell Foley

Events Support Supervisor

dfoley@myokaloosa.com

Darrell Foley has worked on the Emerald Coast from Panama City to Pensacola in the construction industry building high rise condos since his early 20s. Originally from Florala, Alabama, he enlisted in the Navy where he spent eight years as a Machinist Mate and diesel mechanic serving on board the USS White Plains and the USS Enterprise. His Navy career led him to Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi where he operated and tested equipment on board newly built U.S Navy ships.

Darrell couldn’t keep away from the Emerald Coast and moved back to the area. He started at the ECCC in July 2006 providing both audio and video lighting services as an AV technician. He’s been involved with the many changes and ongoing updates of the convention center and its technology while also supporting set up and tear down of every event.

When he’s not building events at the ECCC, Darrell spends his time gardening, playing music, kayak fishing, and singing in his church choir.