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Car dealer uses good will to help teenagers

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Since taking ownership of Willett Honda South of Morrow in 1999, Scott Willett and his wife, Kelly, have been major philanthropists throughout metro Atlanta and the Southern Crescent.

In the past, the McDonough couple has sponsored the Clayton County Fire Department in the National Firefighter Combat Challenge, given to the Rainbow House, and for the last two years, have given a free car to Henry County's Teacher of the Year.

Recently, the couple started the Atlanta Bowtie Society, a charitable organization which aims to meet the needs of indigent teenagers, who are often overlooked during the holiday season.

Willett, an Atlanta native, who spent 13 years in Orlando, Fla., before returning to the Southern Crescent in 1999, fashioned the organization after the Orlando Margarita Society. Since 1983, the group has invited successful business people in the Orlando area to high-profile charity balls, in which the admission is a toy of superior quality to be donated to Toys for Tots or other charities.

While the Margarita Society mostly collects toys for small children, Willett decided that something needed to be done for teenagers in shelters or foster care.

Many times during the Christmas season, "the teenagers have to sit back and watch their [younger] siblings get toys, while they get nothing," said Willett. "They are really the most abandoned when the holiday season comes, and they probably need it more than the little kids.

"They are at an age where the decisions they make are going to affect all of us," Willett continued. "It's good for someone to show them that somebody cares."

To join the Atlanta Bowtie Society costs $500, and in November, invitation-only guests will be welcomed to the Atlanta Bowtie Ball in downtown Atlanta. Those who come will be asked to bring with them a high-quality gift for one teenage boy and girl.

Kelly Willett believes making the ball exclusive will increase the quality of the gifts. She hopes the society will collect the more expensive gifts teenagers enjoy, such as makeup, clothing, shoes, cell phones, guitars, MP3 players, and video game consoles.

She said the fact that members will have already donated their membership will keep the event's focus on getting the best gifts possible.

"There is no silent auction or live auction," she said. "All we ask is that people donate their gift. It's more personal to me."

Major supporters of the Atlanta Bowtie Society are Bill and Lisa Tush. Bill Tush served as Tuner Broadcasting Station's first on-air personality, anchored "Early Morning News," and retired as CNN's chief entertainment correspondent in 2002.

His wife, Lisa, serves as president of the Atlanta Bowtie Society.

"Scott [Willett] is the person who provided the seed money to make it happen," she said. "Most people would rather buy a Barbie or a Spider Man action toy, rather than something a teenager would want. The teenagers figure that is just their lot in life, so they don't really expect anything. That's why Scott wanted specifically to help teenagers."

Monique Henderson, marketing and development director of the Rainbow House -- a Clayton County shelter for abused, neglected, and runaway children -- said the organization may help many children at the shelter, half of whom are over the age of 12.

"This is something that we've had to face for the last 20 years," said Henderson. "At Christmas time, our conference room is six feet high with Barbies and toys for the younger kids. People just don't think about the teenagers. I admire them for recognizing that and taking that on."

For more information about the Atlanta Bowtie Society, e-mail atlantabowtie@hotmail.com.