Above: Member volunteers (left to right) Lynn Ferrell, Suzanne Bray and Mary Sellers put donated shoes into bins before loading them in the van. A shoe drive is held annually at the Dunwoody Chick-fil-A. People drop off gently-used shoes and receive a gift card for a free chicken sandwich, courtesy of Chick-fil-A. The shoes are sold at Attic Treasures and proceeds are used to buy shoe vouchers for school children in need.
All photos courtesy of Assistance League of Atlanta
How can 275 member volunteers, the majority of whom are retired women, help more than 57,000 men, women and children in one year? Through hard work, a generous spirit and a desire to help others, that’s how.
Assistance League of Atlanta, an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization, helps those in need to rebuild their lives and become more self-sufficient through a network of more than 250 community partners.
It all starts with the Attic Treasures Thrift Shop, located in Chamblee. The sale of donated clothing and household goods from the shop generates most of the revenue for the organization’s philanthropic programs. The members keep the store stocked with attractive, gently-used merchandise, and their loyal customers keep coming back.
“Every time someone contributes or purchases an item from our thrift shop, they know the proceeds are going right back to the community,” said Lynn Soylemez, 70, a Sandy Springs resident and current Assistance League of Atlanta President. “It’s really cool. It’s winning all the way around.”
Member volunteers at Assistance League are also involved in various programs that address the needs of low-income children lacking proper school clothing; displaced families living in shelters, cars and motels; indigent new mothers; children traumatized by crisis situations; patients recovering from devastating injuries; and promising students who lack the resources to pursue higher education.
“We have an amazing group of members who work their hearts out. When they become part of our organization, they bring past work experiences and skills, and sometimes are even eager to learn new skills,” said Janice Smith, a retired mortgage banker who lives in Peachtree Corners and serves as Vice President of Communications. “It’s not all about work, either. It’s a social outlet and an opportunity to form new friendships.”
For Dunwoody member volunteer Brenda McDonald, aged 68, the most rewarding part of volunteering at Assistance League is knowing that everyone there believes in the mission.
“I have never seen so many people work so hard, day in and day out, to make an organization succeed,” McDonald said. “The dedication of the members is unbelievable!”
What started as a volunteer effort for Soylemez has turned into a passion. “The Assistance League is like a huge family of brothers and sisters who care deeply about their community and work to make it better. It’s a magical place, and I’m always happy to be here,” she said.
Soylemez said the volunteers are ordinary people, mostly women whose ages range from their 50s to their 80s. The women often enlist their husbands to help with tasks like driving and carrying.
Smith noted that people become involved in Assistance League for various reasons, but most of them have a strong inclination to give back to the community by helping others. Many are looking for an outlet after retirement and others need to fill a void after the loss of a loved one.
“Many of our members have had difficulties in their own lives, but they’ve found a place in their hearts to help others,” Soylemez said. “Everyone who’s involved with the Assistance League—donors, volunteers, even the shoppers—are all helping to make a positive difference. And we get involved with each other’s lives. That’s a lot of what makes it magic. It turns people who are sick or grieving into volunteers who make a difference in the community.”
When people join Assistance League, they undergo two days of training to learn all the aspects of the organization. Once they become members, they work a minimum of two four-hour shifts per month, pay dues and attend monthly meetings. It doesn’t take long, though, for them to find other activities they find rewarding.
“Operation School Bell® is our largest program,” said McDonald. “It provides new clothing to elementary and middle school children so that they may go to school, learn and feel confident that they’re dressed like their peers. I help buy the clothing items.”
As a retired elementary teacher, McDonald sees it as a way to continue helping children to succeed in school. “I know that children who feel good about themselves when they walk in the classroom door are more likely to be engaged in learning and be happy to go to school,” she said. “This year over 13,000 students received clothing items through the program.”
What started in 1982, when 34 women formed this local Atlanta chapter of Assistance League, a national organization, has expanded dramatically as the needs of the community have increased. Assistance League of Atlanta recently purchased a new headquarters building in Peachtree Corners. The facility will house its administrative staff (all volunteers) and program activities. The thrift shop and warehouse will remain in the building on Broad Street in Chamblee.
“We’re just one of over 120 national chapters doing our part,” Smith said. We work hard, but we are rewarded tenfold by giving back to the community. It’s what drives us.”
The Assistance League of Atlanta is open to new volunteers. Even if you can’t commit to all the membership requirements, you can volunteer your time and work behind the scenes. For example, non-member volunteers can sort and tag new school clothing for the Operation School Bell program. Summer is a very busy time as members prepare for the new school year.
For more information about volunteering or becoming a member, visit the website at AssistanceLeagueATL.org, or call 770-458-2038.