Lauren Pelissier, left, and Christie Simons

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, dinner 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 youth-related nonprofit work.

In 2002, Willis co-founded the Atlanta Children’s Foundation, which supports children living in long-term foster care.

Atlanta Angels’ Until Every Child Is Reached campaign kickoff at 42West.

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.”

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.

Donna Williams Lewis

Donna Williams Lewis a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She previously worked as an editor and journalist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution.