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Atlanta's Most Philanthropic People

lauren finney, jennifer bradley franklin, irina talty & presley west | October 23, 2018 | People National

Take a look at the movers and shakers who are helping define what it means to be philanthropic in Atlanta.

Jennifer Grant Warner at Fernbank Museum of Natural History

A lifelong passion for education keeps Jennifer Grant Warner going.

Jennifer Grant Warner knows a thing or two about the power of discovery and innovation. As president and CEO of the Fernbank Museum of Natural History, she has worked tirelessly to expand the museum’s educational programming. Recent initiatives include the PNC Grow Up Great program, introducing underserved children to the wonders of art and science; the new WildWoods outdoor expansion, inviting guests to explore nature alongside exhibits in the 65-acre Fernbank Forest; and a new 3D theater featuring a four-story screen. “There’s nothing better than seeing children—and grown-ups—light up when they first lay eyes on the world’s largest dinosaurs,” she says. A longtime advocate for education, Warner has a passion for providing educational opportunities of wonderment to children and adults alike first developed while working on education policy at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. Though she’s now been with Fernbank for 19 years, Warner still finds inspiration in its mission on a daily basis. “Showing how fun and exciting it is to engage with science, human culture and nature is what motivates us at Fernbank each and every day,” she say. And Warner looks forward “to sparking the curiosity of the community—something that never gets old”—for years to come.

Shepherd Center alumnus Tim, Cindy, Amanda, James and Catherine Wall in the Shepherd Center’s secret garden

For the Wall family, giving gets personal.

All four members of the Wall family know the importance of dedication. Take, for example, James, who set the initial family example by being involved in the Boy Scouts of America for 53 years. Cindy’s passions include (but are by no means limited to) The Atlanta Opera and Fernbank Museum of Natural History, while daughters Amanda and Catherine are both involved in the Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter and the March of Dimes, respectively. But the family shines most in its inimitable work for Shepherd Center Foundation and Alzheimer’s Association, Georgia Chapter. “We’re committed to Shepherd Center as a result of James’ nephew Tim, an alumnus of Shepherd Center, where he received rehabilitation to find a new normal in his life,” says Cindy. “He went on to earn his Bachelor of Science in therapeutic recreation and Master of Science in kinesiology, and he currently serves on the governor’s Brain and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund Commission.” Cindy served as The Legendary Party 2016 chair. Alzheimer’s also affected the family, which led to Cindy’s turn as a celebrity dancer for Dancing Stars of Atlanta. But all are humble when it comes to talking about achievements. Amanda says, “The world is a better place when you invest in others,” and perhaps Cindy puts it best: “Atlanta is our home, and we wish to see people thrive. We are blessed to be a part of something greater than ourselves.”


For Ernest and Patrice Greer, community is paramount.

You’ve seen their names on various major fundraisers over the past 10 years, including the White Coat Grady Gala, Atlanta Ballet Ball and Family First’s Dining for a Difference—but for Patrice Greer, especially, the 2018 Swan House Ball was one for the books. “Chairing it this year with Ginny Brewer was very special to me,” she notes, “because not only did we shatter our financial goals while throwing a fabulous soiree, Ernest’s hard work was also highlighted as board chair of the Atlanta History Center.” The couple, who met in college in Boston, (lawyer Ernest hails from St. Louis, and former commercial real estate and finance executive Patrice is an Atlanta native), has an absolute litany of charitable accomplishments of which to be proud. The Center for Civil and Human Rights, the Woodruff Arts Center, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America and the Atlanta Police Foundation have all benefited from the duo’s tireless work. But it’s not about the accolades. “We are primarily driven to help our community in the areas of health, education and the arts,” says Ernest. “It brings us joy to see the positive difference we can make in our city. We continue to give to our community because we have been blessed with the ability to do so. The more we give, the more blessed we become.”


Thiago Olson has the financial fuel for change.

It may seem counterintuitive to include a decidedly for-profit company among philanthropic leaders, but Engage Ventures Managing Director Thiago Olson makes a strong case: The better and faster startups can grow, the stronger opportunity they’ll have for giving back in their own communities and beyond. “We looked at the landscape and saw that there are all sorts of opportunities to help startups and affect major change here in Atlanta,” Olson says. The Atlanta-based company—which is the largest strategic grouping of major corporations (including Delta Air Lines and AT&T) in an independent platform and venture fund—has invested in 24 high-potential businesses. Giving budding entrepreneurs market access and mentorship can exponentially accelerate their growth. For instance, Engage portfolio company The Mom Project launched the Atlanta Women’s Work Initiative, connecting women returning to work after motherhood with a citywide push to promote economic growth toward a goal of advancing gender equality in pay. It was even endorsed by Mayor Keisha Bottoms. Says Olson of the company and his hopes to create a ripple effect of good: “If we connect innovators and early stage entrepreneurs with the largest players in the industry, everything will cycle and build.”


Philanthropy is more than just giving for Sheryl Cherico.

For Sheryl Cherico, a respected leader in the health care industry, giving is second nature. As CEO and co-founder of Tier3MD, a leading IT support company solely servicing medical practices, Cherico already has quite a résumé. However, she continues to work tirelessly toward a cause that is close to her: breast cancer. As a survivor, Cherico had to undergo numerous surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy, and knows exactly what current patients are going through—she’s even a partner with Rebecca Walden Wig Studio, which services wigs for chemotherapy patients. She is currently the chairman of the Georgia Breast Cancer Coalition, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eradicating breast cancer through funding and legislation. “We’re advocacy; we’re education; and we’re helping patients,” says Cherico. The GBCC has assisted women and men with breast cancer since its establishment and recently gave a grant to DeKalb Medical to cover transportation for radiation patients. Many grants only supply funds for the mammograms, but the organization has made an effort to support patients from beginning to end. Cherico, who looks forward to GBCC’s signature wine event, The Pink Cork, every year, insists giving is a necessity: “You almost have to give back because you go through so much, and you have so much knowledge and positivity to share, that it’s a shame if you keep it to yourself.”


Realtor Travis Reed is on the pulse of not only real estate, but philanthropy.

As the No. 1 agent companywide for Harry Norman, Realtors, you’d assume Travis Reed has a stacked schedule—and you’d be right. But he always makes time for causes that he holds dear, such as “children’s medical care, help for women victims of domestic abuse and animal welfare issues,” he says. “Our lives are enhanced as well by the arts: theater, and performance and visual arts. As government support wanes for the arts, our financial and volunteer contributions are essential.” Reed walks the walk: He’s served on the board of directors of Alliance Theatre and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia, and is a major sponsor of Atlanta History Center, Atlanta Humane Society, Forward Arts Foundation, CURE Childhood Cancer and Andee’s Army, the latter of which “provides treatment for young people recovering or managing brain injuries,” he explains. His involvement started organically: first by example from his parents and grandmother in the rural ranchlands of Texas, then in Atlanta, he says, “through friends and clients alike”—with no signs of stopping. “This year, we’ve seen an incredible outpouring of support and donations for charitable organizations. I hope we can all encourage our friends to join us and expand these circles of support.”


Photography by: andrea fremiotti