January 2022 - Reporter, 20 Under 20

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Talking It Out Page 36

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Our annual recognition of students who give back to the community in extraordinary ways returns after a pandemic pause. Frankly, we are in awe of the ingenuity, resilience, and time management skills this group of honorees brings to the table. From creating nonprofits and fundraising to mission trips and mentoring, the 2022 class of 20 Under 20 are a beacon of hope in our troubled times. This year, Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown joined forces to select the honorees from our coverage areas, which was no easy task. But we think you’ll agree that these students deserve all the accolades for their efforts to help better their communities. — Amy Wenk and Collin Kelley


Chase, 1 n e r r a D | 7 1 , s Ariana Jone ool The Galloway Sch


n the midst of the pandemic, Darren Chase and Ariana Jones started So-

start our non-profit, we had no idea the impact we would have on both the commu-

cializing for Senior Citizens, a non-profit organization that aims to connect

nity and our own lives,” Darren said. “One of my favorite experiences with the non-

teens and young adults with senior citizens who have experienced physical

profit was how close I got to one of my seniors. I soon started calling him twice a week

and emotional isolation during the height of the pandemic. The students re-

and eventually took socially distanced, masked walks with him.” Ariana said the dis-

cruited classmates to check in and connect with seniors using Zoom, phone

regard for senior citizens had always angered her, and the pandemic motivated her

calls, FaceTime, emails, cards, and more. As of November, Socializing for Se-

to act. “While I have been and still am a part of many organizations and movements

nior Citizens had held 169,915 minutes of calls and sent 9,734 emails and cards. The

to fight for change, I had never started one myself. Starting this non-profit and see-

duo also served on the student committee that helped Galloway earn a No Place for

ing its success helped me realize that I am much more capable of being a leader than

Hate School designation two years in a row. “When my friend Ariana and I decided to

I thought I could be.”

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20 UNDER 20


oe has volunteered at Sandy Springs Mission (SSM) in person, on Zoom during the pandemic, and at their summer camp. To help with her tutoring at SSM, she went through structured literacy training to teach her how to better teach reading. Zoe is also part of the ESOL (English as a Second Language) tutoring program at Riverwood and a tutor in the school’s Riverwood High School writing center, where she leads the virtual tutoring program. “Through my volunteer work, I have become a kinder and more patient person,” Zoe said. “I have learned to remain grateful for everything in my life, and I have also grown my passion for education.”

Zoe Van de Grift, 18



his year’s youngest honoree may not have her driver’s license yet, but she is already giving back to the community by volunteering at the Center for Puppetry Arts and at Zoo Atlanta. At the zoo, she answers visitor’s questions about the animals and recently applied for the high school volunteer program where she’ll commit a minimum of 160 volunteer hours at the zoo over the course of a year. “I have learned to be willing to assist others no matter how small it seems because you never know how much of a help it is to the other person,” Tatiana said. “There were times in my volunteer work that I was asked to do things that I thought were insignificant because they didn’t take me a lot of time or effort to do. And many North Springs Charter School times, I would find out later how much of a help it was to someone and how grateful they were for my assistance.”

Tatiana Plummer, 14


n 7th grade, Carly’s dad was diagnosed with a rare occurrence of breast cancer. The experience heightened her interest in medicine and research, leading her to intern for three summers with the at Houston Methodist Hospital’s ALS and Alzheimer’s research lab. In 10th grade, she was asked to participate in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Students of the Year competition and raised over $7,000 Pace Academy as a team member. Her junior year, she co-led a Secure the Cure team that raised over $233,000, the most in metro Atlanta. Carly personally raised over $62,000 and funded the Evan Appel Immunotherapy research grant in honor of her father. Last summer, she spent a week shadowing doctors and nurses at Whiteriver Indian Hospital and making home visits on the Ft. Apache reservation in Arizona. “Through my involvement at Pace and my work with LLS, I learned that adaptable leadership is the key to success,” she said. “I discovered that motivation isn’t a one-size-fits-all affair, and as a leader it’s necessary to understand what motivates each of your team members.”

Carly Appel, 18




addie is passionate about the environment and social justice issues. As co-president of the Environmental Club, she helped organized a clean-up of Nancy Creek, which runs through the Marist campus. She’s also extensively involved with the Campus Ministry program, leading retreats, as part of the Peer Leader program, and volunteering in Marist School the community. “Inspiring people to care about the environment requires not expecting them to agree with me on everything, but rather meeting them where they are,” Maddie said. “In order to accomplish things like an improved recycling program at my pool, I learned to work together with others, many of whom held differing opinions. Experiences like this one taught me the importance of teamwork in all aspects of my life.”



mm, 17

La Madeline ‘Maddie’


eorge is a member of Youth Leadership Sandy Springs, a program that develops the next generation of leaders. Over a 10-month period this year, George is working with local leaders to learn more about service, local businesses, government, and citizenship. As a member of the Young Men’s Service League, he has packed lunches for MUST Ministries, served meals for Feeding the Homeless, completed a recycling and outdoor equipment cleanup with Keep North Fulton Beautiful and the Chattahoochee Nature Center, and spent time with seniors at Mount Vernon Towers. At Holy Innocents’, George serves as executive president of student council and is president of the UNICEF Club. “Through my volunteer and charity work, I have learned to identify and respect the unique situations of people in my communiHoly Innocents’ Episcopal School ty and to specifically target their needs,” he said. “In addition, I have realized that collaboration with others is crucial to problem solving and that even small acts of kindness can have a major impact. “

George Wray, 18

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arah and Ben cofounded PRISM, an initiative designed to challenge Lovett’s curriculum, programming, and leadership decisions to be more inclusive for all things LGBT+. They visited department heads to discuss opportunities in the curriculum, presented a program on National Coming Out Day, and are The Lovett School formalizing the initiative so that underclassmen can take the reins when they graduate. Ben was honored with the Nancy Fraser Parker Citizenship Award to honor well-rounded students who are actively involved in school-sponsored program, while Sarah leads the Student Diversity Leadership Council and Girl Talk Club and was named the state leader of March for Our Lives, the student organization against gun violence. “Through my work in PRISM and March for Our Lives, I’ve definitely learned

Sarah Dowling, 17

the importance of taking things one step at a time,” Sarah said. “The big end goals of comprehensive education about LGBTQ+ topics and stopping gun violence will only be achieved at the end of each “climb,” and I’ve come to realize just how important each small step is (meetings, events, assemblies, emails, you name it) to reaching those goals. No effort I’ve worked on could have been The Lovett School accomplished without the help and support of other people with a shared passion for equity.” Ben, who also served with Sarah on the Student Diversity Leadership Council said, “I have learned how to navigate conversations with individuals holding differing opinions than my own. After having countless conversations on race, sexuality/gender, and other forms of diversity, I feel confident expressing my own opinions and beliefs, but I am also aware that my personal experiences do not apply to every conversation on diversity. “

Ben Foster, 17


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hether it’s responding to a call on NextDoor to help clean up her community, gathering donations for the Friends of Disabled Adults and Children thrift store, collecting reading material for Books for Africa, volunteering at animal shelters, or her devotion to Girl Scouts, Sheridan has been giving back to the community since she was a child. She was accepted into the UPenn Social Innovators Entrepreneurship program and is working on starting a non-profit that assists the needs of the senior community “Charity and volunteer work provides so many valuable lessons, but the most rewarding lessons are lifelong in the relationships that I have built by engaging in these Capstone Academy activities,” Sheridan said. “I have always been an extrovert, the more people I get to know within my community, the more I learn about life and myself. My goal as I continue on this journey is to be strong, optimistic, faithful, caring, and open to new experiences and points of view as I share my own.”

Sheridan Stevens, 17





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s a freshman in high school, Kira got involved with Friendship Circle and Gigi’s Playhouse where she helped a young girl with Down Syndrome to enter mainstream classes. She also teaches music and dance therapy classes for adolescents with Down Syndrome. Helping the underprivileged in her ancestral home of South African included donating clothes, cooking dinner for an all-girls shelter, and bringing dinner to homeless individuals while on family visits. She also volunteers at the Bremen Jewish Home, helping serve meals, playing bingo, and reading to residents. Kira also worked with Am Yisrael Chai to plant daffodils around the world to honor those that perished in the Holocaust. Each year, she runs an annual 5k to remember those who perished and assists Holocaust survivors to light candles at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Program. “I’ve noticed that when you shift the focus from yourself to serving others, you are able to experience a more gratifying form of joy,” Kira said “The experiences, love, relationships, and skills I have gained through my volunteering will stay with me forever and will continue to influence my actions.” The Web

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s leader of her school’s community service club, Jennifer organizes projects for students, including helping Atlanta’s homeless community in Atlanta with food and clothing drives. She’s also the leader of the Green Club, which, under her guidance, is growing vegetables for people who do not have access to healthy food. Her other volunteer work includes hurricane relief, Medshare, American Red Cross, tutoring students, and is a principal member of the school’s Amnesty International chapter, which advocates for Academe of the Oaks human rights. “Volunteering to me is a way of expressing gratitude towards those who have shown me kindness and passing that kindness forward to others,” Jennifer said. “As a volunteer, I’ve learned how a small act of kindness can have a big impact on someone’s life. Volunteering is full of self-discovery, developing new skills, creating friendships, and bringing joy to peoples’ faces.”

Jennifer Van Par, 17

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s a member of Woodward’s Service Leadership Board, Zach helped organize care packages and created a performance recording to send to the elderly residents at a local nursing home during the pandemic to help them feel connected to the outside world. He also initiated and spearheaded the Prison Library Book Drive and hosted a letter writing event to support veterans. “To me, service is not just an act, it is an attitude, it is a way of life,” Zach said. “Every day, I try to think of ways I can help others. It can be as simple as holding the door open for someone or asking them how they’re doing, and it can be as complex as organizing a drive or volunteerWoodward Academy ing at a service initiative. Service to me is placing the interests of others before my own. It is the image of Jesus washing the Disciples’ feet.”

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lijah has been a L.E.A.D. Ambassador for four consecutive years. L.E.A.D. (Launching, Exposing, Advising, Directing) has partnered with Atlanta Public Schools since 2010 to empower an at-risk generation by using baseball to teach Black boys how to overcome three curveballs that threatNew Schools at Carver en their success: crime, poverty and racism. Elijah leads baseball practices and is co-creator of a signature Adidas shoe and cleats. He also serves as a mentor for over 200 boys in the L.E.A.D. Middle School Character Development League and has helped increase the number of high school recruits to join the organization from his school. “A personal lesson I’ve learned from volunteering is that the small things that I contribute could impact someone’s entire day, and their smile will let me know I did my part,” Elijah said.

Elijah Grant, 17


harlie is busy at school, (marching band, student government, named Mr. Sophomore at homecoming, to name a few), but he’s also active in the community. He’s a volunteer in the Princeton Way Neighborhood Association, where he assists in neighborhood activities and special preparation for community events. Charlie also serves as a Youth Lay Delegate for the Atlanta College Park District of the North Georgia United Methodist Church Annual Conference and serves as Senior Teen Chaplin for the Atlanta Chapter of Jack and Jill of America Inc. “Through serving others, I have learned that being kind is its own gift,” Charlie said. “Just by showing kindness, I can make someone’s day better and then, suddenly, my day is better, too. You never know what kind a day a person may ol Druid Hills High Scho be having, so it’s best to lead with respect and kindness.”

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ara’s cousin, Logan, was born with Down’s Syndrome. Inspired by him, Kara and her older sister, Brooke, started volunteering with Special Olympics and became interested in Unified Sports programs, where able-bodied athletes compete alongside individuals with disabilities. In 2017, the sisters founded the Play Unified Club at Westminster to proThe Westminster School mote the social s inclusion and acceptance of individuals with disabilities by providing opportunities for students to engage in sports, music, and STEM activities with them. Kara has been the president of the Play Unified Club since 2020. In 2021, Kara was selected for a mentorship summer program sponsored by KPMG and Special Olympics. She’s also actively involved GiGi’s Playhouse, a Down Syndrome Achievement Center that provides free programming and services to families, including creating a lending library of multi-sensory therapeutic equipment. “I learned that I could make a much greater and deeper impact by focusing on one cause in our community,” Kara said. “Because I am passionate about helping people with disabilities, I was motivated to partner more closely with Atlanta organizations to make a difference.”

Kara Stevens, 16


urtis has spent countless hours sorting thousands of donations for the homeless at the Atlanta Mission, but it’s the interaction with the people he’s met there that has left the lasting impression. “Obviously, donations for the homeless are important, but so is sitting with them and having a conversation,” Curtis Midtown High School said. “Many of them sit all day being ignored by almost everyone who passes by, while we talk to dozens of people every day. Some are so deprived of human interaction that a simple conversation can be worth just as much as any amount of money someone can hand out their car window.” Along with his volunteer work in Atlanta, Curtis also travelled to Ecuador to help build a school and interact with the students. “Building a new school is amazing, but what is the point if the kids in the school are not happy. Little kids are far more likely to remember their first kickball game, rather than those who put the last brick on their school.”

Curtis Harris, 17



aylor volunteers at the Hi-Hope center, which cares for adults with developmental disabilities, and packs Operation Christmas Child boxes for less fortunate families with her mom every holiday season. She’s also been a student ambassador for two years, volunteering to lead new and prospective students Greater Atlanta Christian around camSchool pus. She’s also an active participant in the school’s marching band, which she calls her second home. “Among the most profound lessons I have learned during my time serving are the importance of humility and gratitude,” Taylor said. “Ultimately, the greatest gift obtained through service is the inevitable joy it brings to the community. Seeing how these acts bring so much joy to people who have so little makes me significantly more grateful for the blessings I have been given in my life.”

Taylor Leslie, 16

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mmanuella’s interest in her own family history led her to serve at the Haitian Institute of Atlanta—a mission focused on helping Haitian immigrants transition into American life. There, she helps run educational seminars and workshops for families on a wide variety of topics, from coping with trauma to community problem-solving. In Haiti, she served as a counCristo Rey Atlanta Jesuit High School selor at a children’s camp, while also teaching science classes and assisting with health checks. “I was raised by a deeply rooted Haitian immigrant family living in the United States, emphasizing education and supporting the people around you,” Emmanuella said. “Through my volunteer work, where I spent countless days in Haiti working with the kids, I connected to Haiti. I gained a love for my country and its people. I realized that immigrating to a new country does not mean completely erasing the country of origin. I learned never to forget where I come from.”

Emmanuella Buteau, 17


atherine spent three years creating Troop Hope, a web-based program launched last winter allowing girls of all ages undergoing long-term medical treatments in the hospital to participate in Girl Scouts and earn special badges. Started at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta hospitals, Troop Hope has expanded to 10 hospitals in six states, with others expressing interest in offering the program once pandemic regulations ease. With Troop Hope, Catherine earned her Gold Award, the highest achievement in Girl Scouting, completed by only 6% of Scouts. In addition, she received the Scouts’ highest honor as Woman of Distinction. Coastal Carolina University “Volunteering and giving back to my community has given me so many opportunities to expand my horizons and has always made me feel empowered knowing that my efforts are making a positive impact on someone else’s life,” Catherine said.

Catherine Friedline, 18




homas has been a L.E.A.D. Ambassador for four years, transforming himself into a dependable leader, including serving as senior class president at Booker T. Washington High School. He also serving as a mentor in the L.E.A.D. Middle School Character Development Booker T. Washington High School League, regularly attends formal galas with the organization’s director, and assists with donor relations as a part of L.E.A.D.’s fundraising efforts. “My personal lesson learned from volunteering is how good it feels to be really helpful to someone else,” Thomas said. “Waking up every day knowing that someone else is happy makes me feel joyful.”

Thomas Fennell, 17


very week for the past three years, Asha has been a volunteer tutor at New American Pathways (NAP) working with middle school students in DeKalb County. During the pandemic, she increased those hours to help students struggling with academics, specifically math, while trying to learn from home. StuThe Paideia School dents constantly calling Asha outside of her tutoring time to ask questions and no matter how busy she is or what time of day she always stops to help them. Asha is also a longtime UNICEF volunteer, creating multiple fundraisers for international humanitarian efforts specifically for COVID vaccinations and to support Afghanistan refugees. She recently completed a fundraiser called “Trick or Treat for UNICEF” where she sold candy grams at school where she raised almost $1,000. “I sincerely value the friendships I have made with the students at New American Pathways, gaining both perspective and understanding of the challenges they have overcome,” Asha said. “I have a deep respect for their perseverance and work ethic, qualities that I hope I can emulate.”

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It’s not easy being a middle or high school student today with 24/7 social pressures and the uncertainty of a persistent pandemic. And adolescents who have marginalized identities such as being low-income, youth of color, and/ or LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to experience mental health stressors and less likely to access help, especially in Georgia, which ranks last in the nation for access to mental health care. Hopebound seeks to bridge that gap by providing weekly one-on-one teletherapy to under-resourced adolescents, ages 10-17 in Atlanta (and Newark), during the school year. “Hopebound isn’t too good to be true,” said founder Christina Guilbeau. “We provide our services at no or very low cost because our supervised clinicians are pursuing licensure. Our mission is to make mental health support more accessible to adolescents in need.”

The nonprofit works with schools, afterschool programs and families for referrals. Hopebound staff meet with each caregiver and youth client to explain their services, complete the intake process and provide devices/ hotspots, if needed. The adolescent is then matched with a supervised prelicensed clinician. “We also have monthly caregiver sessions,” said Cayla Winn, Hopebound Programs and Operations Manager. “We want parents to be as involved as possible – not breaching any confidentiality – but to check in on how their child is progressing.” While teaching middle school in Baton Rouge, Guilbeau became aware of the lack of mental health support for adolescents. “I saw how it made my students unable to show up in the way they really wanted to because of everything they were dealing with outside of the classContinued on page 38 reporternewspapers.com

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Continued from page 36 room,” Guilbeau said. She also experienced burnout trying to plan individual lessons for “100 students on almost 100 different proficiency levels,” so she sought mental health support for herself. “I had been dealing with what is called ‘high functioning anxiety and depression’ since I was 14.” Guilbeau said. That’s the age at which 50 percent of lifetime cases of mental illness begin. Her “aha” moment came later while pursuing her MBA in nonprofit management at Stanford Graduate School of Business. “During that time, one of my former students with whom I’m very close almost took her own life,” Guilbeau said. “I was the only adult who knew what was going on. I needed to do something.” Meanwhile, Guilbeau’s friends and family members who were pursuing mental health professional degrees were struggling to earn their clinical hours. This sparked Guilbeau’s idea to virtually connect adolescents in need of mental health support with supervised clinician interns. “I knew there were so many other kids

out there like my student who needed accessible one-on one mental health care,” Guilbeau said. “So I thought, let’s make these two come together. I applied for and received the 2019 Stanford Social Innovation Fellowship and with that funding, launched Hopebound.” Hopebound’s clinicians are graduate students – studying counseling, social work, clinical psychology, or marriage and family therapy – required to complete supervised hours for licensure. Through the nonprofit, they provide talk therapy services and meet with a licensed mental health clinician weekly to review and support their cases. “I tell them, ‘This is as authentic as it’s going to be’,” Winn said. “These are real clients; these are real kids. It’s preparing them for what they are going to do after school.” Current Atlanta clinicians include Brenau University graduate students and a post-graduate clinician from Clark Atlanta University. For the 2021-2022 school year, the nonprofit is serving 42 adolescents in Atlanta, coming from SLAM! Atlanta charter school (grades 4 - 6), Paideia (financial scholarship students) and caregiver referrals. “We will be launching a virtual group in January with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, with an estimated 8-10 participants,” Guilbeau shared. Research indicates that clients can show improvement within a few months of starting therapy. This is consistent with Hopebound’s initial results; all clients reporting a 21% average improvement in their mental health functioning. “I have learned how to identify and cope with sudden feelings of anxiety, and that I am not as alone as I would think,” a client shared. “My children adore their therapists (as do we) and seem to have a much greater understanding of their emotions” a caregiver shared. “I think having a neutral, relatable third party in their corner helps them feel heard and understood in a way that they hadn’t felt before.” The nonprofit is seeking more Atlanta partners to reach more adolescents and pre-licensed clinicians. “We try to be responsible with our growth because we know how fragile this is, “Guilbeau said. “We were unable to serve all interested families and community partners due to limited capacity. We are excited to be able to expand next school year.” Caregivers, schools, and community partners learn more at Hopebound.com.


Harlem Globetrotters visit Cumberland Academy BY AMY WENK The students of Sandy Springs-based Cumberland Academy of Georgia were treated to some impressive basketball skills. Torch George and Moose Weekes of the Harlem Globetrotters took part in the school’s annual Faculty vs. Students basketball game. The Globetrotters joined the student team, and former NFL player Lee Woodall played with the faculty members. Other celebrities included Gina Kavali, a radio personality for Cumulus Media, who acted as the sports commentator. Former NBA player Eddie Lee Wilkins refereed the game. “The game was full of dunks, three pointers, intensity and fun,” said a Cumberland Academy spokesperson. “Torch demonstrated her Guinness World Record move for the most basketball under the leg tumbles in one minute, and Moose landed an impressive long shot basket in a single attempt. Ultimately, the students brought home the win with a score of 52-15.”

“We are blessed to have such influential people take time out of their busy schedules to be a part of these memorable events and serve our students.”

From left, Torch George of the Harlem Globetrotters; Debbi Scarborough, founder and head of school for Cumberland Academy of Georgia; Eddie Lee Wilkins, a former Atlanta Hawks player; and Moose Weekes of the Harlem Globetrotters. (Photos courtesy of Cumberland Academy of Georgia)

Galloway students confidently embrace challenges while developing the knowledge, skills, and cultural competence to thrive as enlightened contributors in their chosen pathways.

Debbi Scarborough

Cumberland Academy serves students in grades 4 through 12 who have high-functioning autism, Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities. “We are blessed to have such influential people take time out of their busy schedules to be a part of these memorable events and serve our students,” said Debbi Scarborough, founder and head of school for Cumberland Academy. “The Globetrotters’ natural talent to combine entertainment and skill provided the encouragement even our most introverted students needed to keep trying until they succeeded.” @reporter_newspapers


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A Perfect Match

New event center, foster care nonprofit join forces for good BY DONNA WILLIAMS LEWIS Christie Simons was looking for event space for Atlanta Angels, a nonprofit she co-founded in 2020 to serve the foster care community. At the same time, event planner Lauren Pelissier was eager to fulfill her vision for 42West, the event space she recently created with former Atlanta Hawks player Kevin Willis (#42) on Atlanta’s Upper Westside. Focused on creating high-end occasions such as red-carpet film premieres, 42West was designed to also give back to the community. Its paid events are a funding stream allowing Atlanta nonprofits to rent the space at zero rental cost. Simons and Pelissier found each other through mutual social media connections and the result was “incredible,” Simons said. Atlanta Angels became the first charity hosted at 42West, launching its “Until Every Child is Reached” campaign at the venue on Nov. 11. The “Influence for Impact” event featured live music, live artist painting, din-

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Atlanta Angels’ “Until Every Child is Reached” was the first charity event hosted at the 42West event space. (Photos by Beri Irving)

Lauren Pelissier of 42West, right, and Christie Simons, founder of Atlanta Angels.

ner and a service project. Guests filled “Love Boxes” with family night-type items for foster care families. “It’s important to hold those types of events, but we like to reserve as much of our finances as possible to go into our programs. So, to not have to use that money to pay for an event space is really incredible. We’re super grateful for that,” said Simons, Atlanta Angels’ executive director. “We wanted the whole evening to be really just incredible and memorable and the space really lended itself to that. The space is amazing.” The 6,000-square-foot venue is in renovated 1950’s-era warehouse space in the Blandtown neighborhood on Huff Road. It features 17-foot-high black ceilings, brick walls, and a white wall used for projection. Nonprofits are charged “very nominal” fees for security, valet parking and cleaning, Pelissier said. Willis’ clothing store, Willis and Walker, occupies 6,000 square feet on the other side of the building. Collaborating with Atlanta Angels was appealing to Pelissier and Willis, who both have long experience in youthrelated nonprofit work. In 2002, Willis co-founded the Atlanta Children’s Foundation, which supports reporternewspapers.com

children living in long-term foster care. Pelissier, a Southern California native now living in Decatur, ran a camp for homeless children for 18 years. She’s the founder of S’more Smiles, a nonprofit that provides a camp experience for children in hospitals. The Atlanta Angels event “literally filled our walls with love,” Pelissier said. “They’re lovely humans, doing amazing work.” A counselor by training, Simons started thinking about helping foster care families while attending an Atlanta Braves game with her husband and the daughter they adopted through the foster care system. “That’s one of our favorite things to do and I was kind of reflecting on how grateful I am,” Simons said. “Then I thought about the fact that there are still thousands of children in foster care in the metro Atlanta area whose childhoods are not filled with fun, happy memories … and I wanted to do something about that.” Georgia had about 12,000 children in foster care as of August 2021, according to the state Division of Family & Children Services. Simons said more than 50 percent of foster families close their homes within the first six months to a year because they feel overwhelmed. Children in foster care move an average of seven times every two years, she said. Atlanta Angels is a chapter of National Angels, which began in Austin, Texas in 2009 and has more than 20 chapters around the country. Simons co-founded the local chapter with Alex Brownfield, current Board chair. Through the Angels’ Love Box program, volunteers deliver boxes filled with items tailored to the specific needs of their matched families every month and spend intentional time with the families, building relationships with them. Simons shared a message an Atlanta Angels Love Box leader received from a foster mom in their program. “Beth” had taken in a sibling set with a medically fragile child who would need intensive care and frequent hospital stays. Despite the challenges she faced, Beth wrote: “I had no idea fostering could be this good. We feel so loved and supported. With previous placements, every day was a struggle, and I didn’t know if we would make it. With the boys and all the support we have, I am positive we can give them everything they need for as long as they need us.”

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How you can help Atlanta Angels has served more than 250 children through its Love Box foster family support program, a Dare to Dream youth mentorship program and special initiatives. For information on volunteering or donating, visit atlantaangels.org. To find out more about the 42West event space, visit 42westentertainmentgroup.com. @reporter_newspapers

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9-year-old Sandy Springs entrepreneur lands Meta grant BY AMY WENK “Get started. Done is better than perfect.” That’s the business advice Zoe Oli, 9, gave in a talk with Meta’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. “A lot of people think it has to be the perfect time to start. But if you wait for that, you are going to wait forever,” Zoe told Sandberg. The Sandy Springs kid entrepreneur certainly didn’t stall her dreams. Zoe is the CEO behind a growing business called Beautiful Curly Me, which creates Black dolls with curly and braided hair. Meta (formerly Facebook) recently awarded Beautiful Curly Me a $4,000 grant as part of its $100 million investment in Black-owned small businesses. The state of Georgia was the largest recipient of the grants, receiving more than $5.6 million. In December, Sandberg interviewed Zoe and her mother, Evana Oli, on Instagram Live, asking about the origins of the company and their future plans. “It all started when I was six years old, and I did not like my hair,” said Zoe, her curly hair pulled back with a headband. “I wished my hair was straight like my class-

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“I liked her, but she did not have hair like mine,” she said. Instead, the doll had straight, silky hair. “I still did not feel good about myself because of that.” It was then Zoe said she wanted to do something about it. She wanted to start a business. “I was taken aback,” Evana said. “She was six years old.” Today, Beautiful Curly Me sells 18-inch dolls named LeZoe Oli, 9, and her mother Evana. yla and Anika with curly or mates.” braided hair in Zoe said her mother tried to console her different skin tones. The company also ofand bought her a Black doll at the store. fers hair care, along with books written by

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Zoe that aim to empower young girls. Beautiful Curly Me has since been featured on national media outlets from “Good Morning America” to People magazine. Sandberg praised the dolls. “Not only is she beautiful with her curly hair, but she’s anatomically correct. This is a real girl,” she said. “You are helping girls feel good about their hair, their skin and their bodies. That is so wonderfully important.” Evana said her daughter is the “driving force” behind the company and has big plans for the future. “About 66% of the world has curly hair,” Evana said. “We really want to go global with this brand. Zoe has huge dreams and aspirations.” That includes launching a podcast and writing more books, said Zoe. She also wants to expand the company’s charitable endeavors. For every doll purchased from Beautiful Curly Me, the company donates one doll to a girl in need. So far, they have donated 667 dolls, according to their website. “We know there are millions and millions of girls out there whose lives we can really impact,” Zoe said.

Kennesaw’s MBA program looks to grow at City Springs Several evenings a week, students fill a classroom at City Springs, the walkable town center of Sandy Springs. Since fall 2019, Kennesaw State University’s Michael J. Coles College of Business has offered its Master of Business Administration program at City Springs. “Our MBA program has grown from about 300 students to almost 600 students in the last three years,” said Dennis Marrow, executive director of MBA Programs for the Coles College of Business. “And part of that growth has been the expansion into the Sandy Springs area.” He said the location is convenient for students who live in the area and for those who work in downtown Atlanta. KSU also offers its MBA program at its main campus, as well as at the Cobb Galleria. Marrow hopes the program can grow in Sandy Springs. Nationally, though, there has been a decline in MBA enrollment. The Wall Street Journal reported in September that some of the best-known MBA programs in the U.S. saw “precipitous drops or sluggish interest” in fall 2021. “We were on a really strong growth trajectory pre-COVID,” Marrow said.

“Our plans are to get back on the growth track. And once we’re back on the growth track, and we see the need, we are certainly willing and able to expand our classrooms in City Springs. Right now we use one classroom four nights a week, and they certainly have space over there to expand if it makes sense.” The MBA program is designed for working professionals. On average, students take two MBA courses each semester and can complete their degree in as few as 17 months. Marrow said obtaining an MBA can lead to higher salaries and better career mobility. “It’s an investment in yourself,” he said. — AMY WENK reporternewspapers.com




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