Will Garrett, had great expectations for his first "Inspire Weekend" in November, and he wasn't disappointed.
"It exceeded everybody's expectations," said Garrett (below). "People were just overjoyed."
Garrett's idea had been to put together a fun but profound event for young people 17-25 who needed a little help finding a direction in life. After the first stab, he's pretty sure he's onto something. The young folks who attended last fall enjoyed the food, enjoyed the company, enjoyed the whole weekend--but there was one aspect Garrett hadn't anticipated.
"Everyone said what they loved was that they were treated like adults and they were even allowed to have coffee any and all the time that they wanted it," said Garrett.
That surprised him. "What we wanted to do, the whole essence of it, was we wanted to inspire people to take charge of their lives," he said.
But--coffee? Well, OK, Garrett guesses, if it works. "We had all kinds of different-flavored coffee, and we felt like, a senior in high school, if they wanted coffee they could have coffee," he said.
Perhaps it's an apt metaphor. The Inspire Weekend concept is to help young folks get going--to "rise up strong" and "own their own story," as Garrett puts it. "What we're trying to do is not tell people what to do but give them such an energy surge of inspiration that they might find their way through the fog of not knowing," said Garret.
On a humbler, day-to-day level, a cup of Joe helps dispell the fog for many of us. It allows us, if not to rise up strong, at least to rise up.
Whatever its merits as a motif, the coffee theme does keep recurring: Most of the first set of Inspire participants--Garrett calls them "Sojourners"--have volunteered to return this spring as staffers for the second Inspire Weekend to help with food, organization and events. "We'll pour coffee for people," they told Garrett.
The second Inspire Weekend will begin at 8 a.m. on Friday, April 7, and end at 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 9, at Camp Lookout on Highway 157. Garrett is now recruiting participants and sponsors. See how to sign up below.
But what is Inspire? Basically, it's a retreat weekend for young people, with games, music, food--and let's not forget coffee--interspersed with talks on big and little Life subjects, happiness, work, soul, like that. But Garrett avoids the word "retreat" because he wants to stress Inspire is not what he calls "churchy." The purpose is not to push kids in the direction of any church or religion. Neither, he also emphasizes, is it to push them toward any career or even any educational path.
But that is not to say that it's not to give them a push.
Garrett, a former Methodist minister who now owns and operates four Guthrie's Chicken franchises, found out both in his restaurants and through teaching business courses at Chattanooga State that some kids really do seem to need that little nudge. "Their college was paid for but they were just lost, didn't know what they were going to do--kind of upset at Mom and Dad for even making them come to college, some of them," said Garrett of his students.
He saw students who were struggling because they were from broken, drug-ridden or otherwise dysfunctional homes, said Garrett, but he saw plenty more from solid, well-to-do families who were also struggling. It was just a matter of lacking direction, he thought. "They were uninspired for life," said Garrett.
So Garrett saw that something needed to be done, and he got together with a panel of teachers, preachers, business owners and community leaders of all kinds and brainstormed and argued and organized (The Planet dares venture some coffee was consumed along the way) until the first Inspire weekend emerged on Nov. 18. That group eventually coalesced into the Leadership Table, a nonprofit organization that continues to change and expand as it plans future Inspire Weekends.
For the first Inspire in November, Garrett and crew were shooting for 40 young people, ended up with 20, and learned they never wanted to try for more than 30. Smaller groups provide the kind of personal contact they were aiming for, said Garrett.
Garrett had been prepared for some resistance of his targeted attendees. He'd told the Leadership Table: "Do not expect that these people are going to say, oh, something wonderful is being developed for me. I think I'll go and have a great time. I said, people don't do that."
And he was not wrong. "We had to call, call again, get with Mom, get with Dad, get with aunts, we'll pick you up--all this stuff to get them there," said Garrett.
On Friday, the young people arrived reluctantly, said Garrett, but: "By Saturday they were really opening up and by Sunday they didn't want to go home." At leaving time, the young people kept wanting to say one more thing, said Garrett. "I actually had to close it down about 6:15," he said. "I said, we've got to go home."
There were nine high school and 11 college students, and they quickly coalesced into a support group that felt like family. "One of the recurring theme that I heard over and over was, we felt so loved," said Garrett.
One young man said at the end of the weekend that he had arrived feeling soulless. "You have given me my soul back," he said. A girl said the experience had made her feel better able to deal with a miserable family situation. "My family probably hasn't changed, but I have," she said. One of the college students on the brink of dropping out made up his mind to stay in.
The secret, said Garrett, was in the peer group. "Young people help young people," he said. "Old curmudgeons like me don't help much."
The Sojourners from the Nov. 18 continue to meet quarterly at Guthrie's. Garrett stays out of their way, quietly drinking--what else--coffee, and lets them at it, but he's pleased they come back. "We had to drag them to get them there, but then they came to the follow-up meetings because they loved it so much," he said.
The fee for the weekend is $150, and the Leadership Table prefers attendees to pay at least $25 of that themselves so that they have "skin in the game," a personal stake in the weekend's success. But Garrett wants no one to be turned away because of finances and managed to find sponsors to underwrite some young 100 percent last time.
Do you know, or are you, a young person 17-25 who might benefit from an Inspire Weekend? Or would you like to sponsor one? It's fun. It's inspirational. And there's coffee.