Bringing the tailgate party to Shepherd Center were Kate Aspinwall (front,
from left) Megan Walker,
Elizabeth Christopher, Rebecca Christopher. (back, from left) Allison E. Maloney, Christina Sirockman, Allison Christopher, Ellen Williams, Molly E. Kittrell, Sarah Langsfeld, Abby H. Ballinger, Natalie Fulghum

Arguably, Thanksgiving weekend has some of the best football games of the year.

But for people in the hospital, small comforts like watching football can seem out of reach.

So, women from an organization called the Phoenix Society planned a tailgate party recently for patients at the Shepherd Center so they could enjoy being with their families and watching a good old fashioned football rivalry: University of Alabama vs. Auburn University.

“We had a barbecue dinner catered for patients and their families. I would estimate we served at least 200 people,” said Lauren Tucker, senior major and planned gifts officer for Shepherd Center Foundation. “It was awesome.”

Tucker, who raises money for the Shepherd Center Foundation, is also a former debutante with the Phoenix Society. The Buckhead-based philanthropic organization celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

“Phoenix Society was formed by group of gentlemen that not only wanted to present their daughters to the community, but expand opportunities for community service in Atlanta,” said Saundra Minnich, who has been involved with the organization for many years.

What sets the Phoenix Society apart from other debutante groups is their commitment to helping the community, Minnich said.

“This organization is more about service and philanthropy than presentation to society,” Minnich said.

Minnich said the organization is small and membership is by invitation only. Fathers are nominated to join, and their daughters may make their debut to society as debutantes between the ages of 18 and 22.

“They are very pleased to see their children joining the service ranks in the community,” Minnich said. “Phoenix is a very small organization but they make a huge impact in the community.”

Before the debutantes are formally presented at the annual ball, they are required to volunteer their time with the two organizations the Phoenix Society supports: the High Museum of Art and the Shepherd Center.

“They work so hard and give a great deal of their time,” Minnich said.

Tucker said it was her experience of volunteering at the Shepherd Center with the Phoenix Society that ultimately led her to work full time at the hospital for spinal cord injuries.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my my volunteer time here very, very much,” Tucker said.

Tucker was part of the Phoenix Society’s debutante class of 2002, after she graduated from Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School in Sandy Springs and Furman University. She now serves on the Phoenix Society’s Board of Directors.

As a liaison between the two groups, Tucker says she loves seeing the debutantes getting excited about their volunteer work at the Shepherd Center.

“I hear their favorite part time and time again is being able to volunteer with Shepherd. It’s just heartwarming for me to hear,” Tucker said.

Tucker said the Phoenix Society gives financially to the Shepherd Center as well.

“The Phoenix Society has been able to make very generous cash contributions,” Tucker said. “It was neat to see parents giving back financially while the girls are volunteering their time.”

Minnich said she really enjoys that family aspect of the Phoenix Society.

She said families will come together to show their support for the debutantes at this year’s ball, scheduled for Dec. 22 at the Cherokee Town Club in Buckhead.

“It’s family-oriented and service-oriented,” Minnich said. “I think in today’s society that’s particularly important.”

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