By Amy Wenk

A group of Buckhead mothers and daughters is making a difference in the community.

From assisting at the Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children to cleaning up Oakland Cemetery, the members of the Buckhead Chapter of the National Charity League Inc. are ready and willing to help.

“I think it is just really fun to be with everyone while you know you are helping,” said Jenny NeSmith, 17, a senior at The Westminster Schools. “I like going to different areas and seeing different people because it is easy to take everything for granted.”

Although the national organization was founded in 1947, the Buckhead Chapter was formed seven years ago by Ann Morton and Debbie Leet. There are 148 chapters in 15 states.

“The idea is it is a small group leadership program for mothers and daughters to do together,” said President Harriott Kelly, a founding member of the Buckhead Chapter. “Everyone has to do a certain amount of philanthropic work. We give out prizes to those who do the most.”

In addition to serving local charities, the group fosters leadership training, cultural experiences and educational activities. The mothers are required to have a role in the organization, such as board member or committee chairwoman. The daughters also elect officers among themselves and often organize their own events.

“The advantage is, for the mothers, you get to spend time with your daughters doing something that is not focused on either one of you,” said Kathy Hoddeson, vice president of philanthropy. “For the daughters, it is good because it helps them to see what they can contribute. It gets them out of their own heads to see what else is going on in the world. It helps them to learn how to model social interaction in a nonstructured environment. It develops their social graces, as well as contributes back to the community.”

The group has about 130 girls, called Ticktockers, and around 100 moms, called Patronesses. The organization is open to seventh- to 12th-graders, and this chapter consists of students from such schools as Pace Academy, The Lovett School and Westminster.

Last year as an organization the Buckhead Chapter gave 5,534 hours of service to 16 charities.

“They are very active in the community,” Hoddeson said.

In the year that began in April, the Buckhead Chapter serves 18 organizations and has donated 2,500 hours so far toward a goal of more than 6,000.

“Our theme this year is ‘Kick it up a Notch’ because we are trying to increase our hours,” Kelly said.

One of the most popular venues for volunteerism is the Atlanta Day Shelter for Women and Children, located on Ethel Street.

“We literally could not have our programs without the National Charity League,” said the Rev. Nancy Yarnell, the shelter’s executive director and a Buckhead resident. “The mothers and the daughter are instrumental in our clothing ministry, which keeps everyone from the tiniest little newborn up to 17-year-olds clothed with clean, stylish new clothes.”

The Buckhead Chapter also assists with caring for children at the shelter — which sees 150 to 250 people a day — while their mothers attend job or computer training. In addition, the league packs backpacks with school supplies, organizes the toiletry room and brings donations such as clothing.

“Every time I turn around, the National Charity League is here for something,” Yarnell said. “They are the lifeblood of the community.”

The chapter also is active at the Ronald McDonald House, where the members prepare and deliver meals to the families of critically ill children.

Another favorite organization is Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The girls provide snacks to the intensive care unit, make Halloween costumes and create Valentine’s boxes for the patients.

Other beneficiaries of the chapter’s time include the Northside Shepherd’s Center, Small Dog Rescue, Meals on Wheels, the Therapeutic Riding Program at Chastain Horse Park, Atlanta Community Food Bank, City of Refuge and the Center for Puppetry Arts.

All told, the Buckhead Chapter donated an estimated $108,000 worth of goods and services in the year that ended March 31.

For participants such as 17-year-old Leyla Alexander-Genculu, a senior at Chamblee High School, volunteering becomes more than an after-school activity.

“It is another way for them to shine,” Kelly said. “This is their passion.”

As a member of the Buckhead Chapter since seventh grade, Leyla has donated about 750 hours of service to the community.

“I really like the feeling of giving back,” she said. “I’m a philanthropist. I don’t really do sports; volunteering is kind of my thing.”

Many mothers have gotten so involved with the charities that they have gone on to serve on those organizations’ boards, “which is the whole idea of the program, to teach leadership skills and to get people involved with their community,” Kelly said.

Chapter members currently serve on the boards of Oakland Cemetery, Small Dog Rescue and the Atlanta Day Shelter.

“You are giving your community trained leaders by having them go through the program,” Kelly said.

For more information about the Buckhead Chapter of the National Charity League, visit