Atlanta, GA,
11:34 AM

Junior Committee’s Executive Committee Leads the Next Generation of Philanthropists

Young professionals give of their time and talents to plan fun fundraising events for an inspiring cause.

When Taylor Watson attended his first meeting of Shepherd Center’s Junior Committee three years ago, he felt an instant connection with the speaker – a former patient.

“He was about my age and had been injured in a diving accident,” Taylor remembers. “He went to the lake with friends and that one day changed his life. I was living that life. I thought, ‘that could be me.’”

That was enough for Taylor to want to become a part of the organization.

“I had been looking for a way to give back and volunteer my time,” he says. “When I heard about the work that Shepherd does, I wanted to get involved.”

Marissa Ellin had a similar experience after she attended her first meeting. Both she and Taylor had been invited to attend by friends. “To hear those stories is so powerful,” says Marissa, who was born and raised in Atlanta and was familiar with Shepherd Center. “You appreciate the cause and the incredible work that Shepherd does.”

Both Taylor and Marissa – who coincidentally both graduated from of the University of Alabama but didn’t know each other on campus – joined the Junior Committee after their first meetings. Their dedication and hard work earned them spots on the Executive Committee last year. Taylor, who works in software sales for SalesLoft, an Atlanta-based sales engagement platform, and Marissa, who is in digital marketing at CSE, a digital marketing agency in Cobb County, Georgia, are now co-chairs of the Executive Committee’s biggest fundraiser, Derby Day.


Junior Committee is a group of young professionals who come together to raise money and awareness for Shepherd Center. Founded 37 years ago, it primarily fundraises for Shepherd Center’s Recreation Therapy Program. The committee organizes Derby Day, a festive party and the largest Kentucky Derby event in Atlanta. The event has raised $4.7 million over its nearly 40 year history. Shepherd Center’s Recreation Therapy department is the biggest program of its kind in the country. The goal of Recreation Therapy is to help patients return to sports and recreation activities they were doing before their injury, discover new interests and experience community re-integration outings. It offers them hope and independence.

Derby Day is the longest-running fundraiser for Shepherd Center and the committee’s marquee event. The committee also hosts several other events such as happy hours, fitness programs, donation nights at local venues and offers members the opportunity to attend patient outings with the Recreation Therapy Program.

Beyond volunteering, members of the Junior Committee – many of whom are just getting their careers off the ground – also have the chance to network and meet other young professionals with common interests. Members who want to assume more of a leadership role can be elected to the Executive Committee. It is comprised of the committee heads for Derby Day: the co-chairs, sponsorship, membership, auction, public relations, food and beverage and field operations. Last year Taylor was head of field operations and Marissa oversaw sponsorships.

Taylor says serving on the Junior Committee helped fill a void he didn’t realize was there.

“In life you need to give back,” Taylor says. “If you just focus on yourself, you’re not getting everything out of life that you can. I didn’t realize I was missing volunteering until I got involved. It’s been a great opportunity for me.”

Marissa also values being a part of such an important program.

“The Junior Committee keeps getting bigger and better every year,” she says. “We help spread awareness of Shepherd Center and the recreation therapy program. We are invested in seeing it succeed.”

Membership for the 2018-2019 Shepherd Center Junior Committee is now open. For more information, please visit Derby Day 2019 will be held on May 4 at Chastain Horse Park in Atlanta.

Written by Sara Baxter

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.