Started by Chick-fil-A pioneer Truett Cathy in 1985, WinShape camp was designed to be an avenue for kids to “sharpen their character, deepen their Christian faith and grow in their relationship with others,” according to the WinShape website. What started out as one camp in Mt. Berry, Ga. has now expanded to over 70 community camps nationwide, one of those being LaGrange.
This is the third year WinShape has been hosted in LaGrange, organized by Sherri Brown, Director of the LaGrange chapter. The camp is made possible by the collaboration of four local churches who each send two representatives to serve on the camp leadership board. Western Heights Baptist Church, First Baptist Church on the Square, Baptist Tabernacle and New Community Church have all made WinShape Camp a possibility in LaGrange.
With a steep price of $196 per camper for the week, local organizers have been active in creating a scholarship fund to ensure all children have the chance to experience a week at camp. Over the past three years, over $125,000 has been raised going towards scholarships and the operation of the camp.
This year alone, over $40,000 was raised through the Chick-fil-A 5k race held in May and through community donations. The race alone raised $17,000.
Of the 322 campers this year, Brown said 71 percent of campers received some amount scholarship money to go towards the fee. However, Brown said very few children receive a complete free ride. Whatever money is not paid for by the camper, must be paid for by the local community camp organizers.
Brown emphasised the importance of the community involvement as a huge support for putting the camp together these last couple of years. Charter Bank was the first to sign on as a primary sponsor followed by Mike Patton Auto Family and Emory Clark Holder.
Having two Chick-fil-A locations has also served as a large support behind the camps.
“We’re really lucky… they’re a team and totally supportive and we could not do it without them. It’s really a community thing,” Brown said.
LaGrange has been so successful in its fundraising and community support that WinShape has recommended each leadership board across the country to appoint a scholarship coordinator in attempt to copy LaGrange’s model.
The community isn’t just vital in raising money, but also in recruiting campers.
According to Brown, several organizations in LaGrange identify children who they feel will benefit from the camp. These organizations include the Boys and Girls Club, Franklin Forest Elementary, Circles of Troup, Harmony House and several after-school programs.
WinShape has touched the lives of thousands of children, including those who face challenges in their daily lives. Brown shared a testimony by one of this year’s mothers whose son lives with diabetes. As a result he has not been accepted by any other camps because of his condition.
“We really try to make it accessible … he has just loved every day because he’s never been able to do that before,” Brown said. [The staff] really looks hard for opportunities to make a difference in kids’ lives.”
Children who have completed grades first through sixth participated in the camp, from 7:45 a.m. to 5 p.m. which ran June 9-13. The days were spent rotating through several activities including worship, recreation, skills classes and small-group time in their “team” and “villages.” Campers are separated into three villages according to their ages.
Sticking with their mission to improve the lives of children, campers chose three of 19 possible skills to develop throughout the week. These skills can be anything from archery or lacrosse to painting, cooking or theater. According to Brown the most popular skills classes are Wacky Science, Girl World and Man Land. In Man Land, boys learned how to shave, tie ties and grill hamburgers. Girl World includes tea parties and fashion shows.
The five-day camp has 90 volunteers of all ages including 23 college students from all over the country who are hired, trained and sent by WinShape.
Jared Fulks, junior at Liberty University in Lynchburg VA. returned for his second year with WinShape as Volunteer Director. Fulks said the training process is eight days at Mt. Berry College where the volunteers spend their days in seminars learning how to teach curriculum and skills.
“WinShape’s mission is spot on with that God’s mission is and that is to bring people into the church and WinShape is a perfect program to bridge that gap,” Fulks said.
Mary Jane Young, WinShape Camp Director added on to that saying,
“Our mission is to connect the community with the local Church. We work with local churches and Chick-fil-A to give an unprecedented day-camp experience to campers.”
Organizers work year round to set dates, raise funds and recruit campers. Though the camp ended yesterday, starting in two weeks the planning period starts all over again and preparations for next year’s camp will begin according to Brown. LaGrange currently has two more years on its five-year contract with WinShape. According to Brown, the future of the camp in LaGrange is still in discussion.
“We seek for children to learn about Jesus in a very fun and interactive way and we love it,” Young said. “This is more than just a job for us, its something we’re extremely passionate about.”