By Polly Warren

Twenty years ago, 16 women met for lunch. Their mission? To create an organization of talented women dedicated to improving Sandy Springs — and to have a whole lot of fun doing it.

Today, with 260 members, the Sandy Springs Society has grown into Sandy Springs’ largest philanthropic organization. And two decades later, the group is still having fun raising money. Since its beginning, the group has donated more than $1.9 million to nonprofit groups that meet the needs of Sandy Springs in the areas of education, social services, heritage, the environment and the arts.

One of the society’s most visible contributions is its Town Turtles project. Sixty-pound, 56-inch-tall fiberglass turtles, painted by local artists, were auctioned off in 2005, raising more than $700,000 and turning the town into a virtual outdoor art gallery. One of the most successful urban art projects ever, the turtles still dot the landscape of Sandy Springs, from homes and businesses to the library and fire station, and have turned into the unofficial mascot of the newly incorporated city of Sandy Springs.

Proceeds from the turtle project helped the society purchase 11 parks from Fulton County for the city when Sandy Springs incorporated and funded the construction of a multipurpose entertainment green in the heart of Sandy Springs near the Williams-Payne House. The green-terraced Sandy Springs Society Entertainment Lawn is the site of summer concerts and other town gatherings.

This past year, the society continued its green tradition, giving $17,000 to help purchase Lost Corner, a future nature preserve, and $1,000 to efforts to save the Abernathy oaks during the road widening project. It also donated nearly $60,000 to build an archival library in the Bluestone Building being renovated by Heritage Sandy Springs. The archive space will include fireproof storage, research workstations and display cases for rotating collections.

Over the years, the society has assisted more than 50 organizations with contributions including providing supplies for art classes, vision screenings for children, foot care classes for senior citizens, defibrillators for fire stations, freezers for food banks and summer camps for at-risk children.

The main sources of funds for the Sandy Springs Society are two annual signature events: Tossed Out Treasures, an upscale flea market, which will be March 19 to 22; and a garden party May 3. Details about both can be found at

“When we first started, our idea was to gather the most dynamic and creative women we could find, then focus on community service,” said Jan Collins, one of the original 16 founders. “I think we’ve succeeded.”

Collins is the honorary chair of the society’s 20th anniversary gala Feb. 28 at the Ritz-Carlton Buckhead. StarBurst 2009, celebrating 20 years of shining on Sandy Springs, will sparkle with signature cocktails, a five-course dinner, live and silent auctions, and a special Gallery of Stars, at which guests can buy mystery celebrity paintings. John Pruitt, WSB-TV anchor, is emceeing the evening.

Borrowing an idea from the Royal College of Art in London, society members have gathered nearly 100 5-by-7-inch canvases painted by celebrities and artists. The catch is that buyers won’t know whose painting they’ve bought until they turn it over. The celebrities are signing their artwork on the back.

National celebrities such as Tom Hanks and Kelly Ripa and such local luminaries as Zell Miller and Alana Shepherd have contributed works.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, contact Marsh Webb at 404-219-7101 or Maidee Spencer at 404-252-4860.

Polly Warren is a member of the Sandy Springs Society board.