A Trenton billboard announces this fall's Inspire! Weekend.
Fall is here, there’s a certain snap in the air, and for Dade’s Leadership Table, the change of season can mean only one thing: Time for another Inspire! Weekend. This latest installment of Will Garrett’s brainchild youth program will be Nov. 3-5 at Camp Lookout.
Garrett (below), the Methodist minister turned fried chicken magnate who brought Trenton its Guthrie’s franchise, kicked off Inspire last November after months of planning with The Leadership Table, a nonprofit coalition of local civic, education and church leaders who came together to help make Garrett’s vision a reality. A second session followed in the spring, and now it looks as if Garrett’s ambition to make the weekends twice-yearly events, with Inspire “graduates” coming back to mentor the newbies, has also come to fruition.
Young people 17-25 years old are invited to participate in Inspire, and Garrett and company are also recruiting volunteers and sponsors to help with the weekend. To that end, Leadership Table veteran Gen. Bob Woods spoke last week at the Dade Chamber of Commerce’s quarterly luncheon.
What is Inspire? Gen. Woods explained the basic premise: Some young people hit the ground running after high school and make a beeline to wherever they seem to have been headed since they emerged from the uterus: teaching, the law, nursing, medical school. But then, as the general put it: “You’ve got some other young adults that aren’t quite there yet.”
Garrett observed the phenomenon in young people who worked at his restaurants or took the classes he taught at Chattanooga State. They might be kids from broken homes and drug problems, or they might be the children of the solid middle class, but they shared a basic problem: They were directionless, lost, seeming to have no idea what to do with themselves. “They just were struggling with life," Garrett said in a Planet interview prior to last fall’s Inspire.”
Inspire is meant not to push young people in any particular direction, such as a job, university course or religion, only to furnish a supportive and invigorating space where they can find their own way. “We tell them that they can write their own story,” said Gen. Woods (below right). “They just have to make a decision to do so.”
Garrett, the ex-preacher, always stresses that the weekends are not “churchy” or religious. Gen. Woods described them as filled with skits and games, interspersed with talks about the important stuff. “For those three days, they are listening to the priorities of life,” said the general. “The larger things that we should all be talking about as we go through life.”
Speakers include CEOs, teachers, preachers, whoever has a message to impart, but what Inspire depends on more than anything else is the support the 20-30 young participants—“We call them sojourners because they’re on a journey,” said the general—give each other. “They’re going to be in an environment of 100 percent support and concern and love,” he said.
The general described a tendency among the sojourners to arrive reluctant and sullen on Friday, thaw a little by Saturday lunch, be fully involved by Saturday night and not want to go home on Sunday. “We’ve got graduates that come back because they believe in it so much,” he said. These alums become “table leaders,” or counselors, for ensuing Inspire sessions, or simply work as volunteers.
Gen. Woods said the two Inspire Weekends so far already have generated success stories, a homeless kid who went through the lineman school and got a good job, others in college.
Participation in the Inspire! Weekend—again, open to young folks 17-25—costs $150, and sojourners are asked to pay $25 of that themselves. Sponsorships are usually available to take care of the rest. No one is turned away because of finances.
Would you like to help with this Inspire! Weekend? The general pointed out that there are various levels of involvement—you can be a hands-on sponsor for a specific sojourner, making sure the kid has a sleeping bag and gets to camp on time, or you can just kick in some money, either for a specific young adult or for whichever one needs it. Or you can volunteer your time, goods or services.
To enroll in Inspire, sponsor a youth, donate or just find out more, readers may visit inspireweekend.com or call (706) 657-6821.