WinShape Homes Creates
Family for Foster Youth
by Kim Phagan-Hansel
For years Truett Cathy had watched some of the children who attended his Sunday school class at First Baptist Church struggle with family life, some of them living with foster parents. An empty nester, Cathy wanted to do something to help children. So 27 years ago the Chick-fil-A founder launched WinShape Homes.
“Our hope is to provide homes for children who are able to function in an everyday family environment and to commit to each child through adulthood,” said Ryan Griffin, spokesperson for WinShape Homes. “WinShape Homes is Christ-centered, family-oriented, and dedicated to the development of the whole child.”
In the last 27 years, more than 400 children have lived in one of the 12 WinShape Homes in Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama. Licensed for children ages 6 and older, the WinShape Homes model allows up to 12 children in each home, with two full-time parents, keeping large sibling groups together.
“Given the number of children in each home, we believe that the parents not having jobs outside of the home allows for the best possible care and development of each child that is placed with us,” Griffin said. “Our success with each child, we believe is a result of having long-term, committed parents in each home.”
On average, the WinShape Homes house parents have been with the program for about 15 years; one of the first couples hired is working on their 26th year currently. As house parents, couples run their homes as a typical family would. From chauffeuring children to after-school activities to overseeing the completion of homework, the house parents do everything a parent would right down to tucking kids in at night and kissing scrapes and bruises.
“Each home’s culture is unique to that family,” Griffin said. “We encourage and promote extracurricular activities such as piano lessons and other interests each child has. We also provide specialized schooling as well as tutors to meet the individual needs of each child.”
Uniquely, WinShape Homes accepts private placements of children and “works with each child to maintain a healthy and active relationship with their custody-holder, be it a grandparent or other family member,” Griffin said. “Through judges, Department of Family Services, local faith communities, grandparent organizations, etc., families become aware of how we may be able to help them.”
For Richard Yadkowski, the ability to stay in contact with his father and siblings was important. Entering foster care around age 7 after his mother’s death and his father’s failing eyesight left him unable to work and care for three young children, Yadkowski still loved his family. Even though one of his foster parents wanted to adopt him at one point, Yadkowski said it didn’t feel right to create a forever disconnect from his birth family.
“I did not want to be adopted,” Yadkowski said. “I love my father and my brother and sister. I did not want to ‘sever’ ties with them. I did not want to change my last name.”
So, around age 12, Yadkowski entered the WinShape Homes program that enabled him to live with a family, but stay connected to his biological family. Not only did Yadkowski gain a family, but he also enjoyed a close connection to the Cathy family.
“He [Truett Cathy] cared for me as though I was actually one of his grandchildren,” Yadkowski said. “He would often introduce me as his chosen grandson. It definitely helped me feel better about myself. WinShape gave me an opportunity to thrive.”
At WinShape Homes, Yadkowski successfully graduated high school and went to college. Eventually he married and had three children. After being a Chick-fil-A operator, Yadkowksi and his wife also joined the WinShape Homes team as house parents. Today, he lives down the street from his WinShape family.
“I am in the ‘family business,’” Yadkowski said. “I seek the advice of the family that raised me and genuinely enjoy being around them. They treat my kids, all of my kids, as their grandchildren.”
Doug and Julie Bowling, Yadkowski’s WinShape parents, have been house parents for WinShape Homes for 25 years. The second home established by the Cathys, the Bowlings have foster-parented 48 children during those years.
“No child is like another child,” the Bowlings said. “We are constantly changing, regrouping and rethinking every day. These kids come from various backgrounds and various problems come in the door with them. We are challenged daily to meet their needs and solve tough problems and obstacles.”
With support from the WinShape Homes program, a human services professional, psychologists, psychiatrists, academic tutors and others assist the Bowlings. All members of the WinShape team work to provide the children with all of the things they need to be successful in life.
“In order to run our homes smoothly, we get up early and get moving,” the Bowlings said. “If you were to enter our house at any given time, you would hear the piano playing, see kids doing homework, supper being cooked, dogs being fed and lots of questions being answered.”
The activity at the homes are similar to any typical home, providing children with a stable, consistent home life.
“We are very proud to be a part of WinShape Homes,” the Bowlings said. “It is a wonderful place for children. We have wonderful staff that support us and are beside us every step of the way. We have no doubt that these kids’ lives are forever changed when they come here.”
WinShape Homes is supported by the Cathy family foundation and Chick-Fil-A, but the program has also been the beneficiary of couples and support staff wanting to make a difference. Currently, the WinShape Homes program has openings for additional children to join a WinShape family.
“Because we’ve had the opportunity to open a couple of new homes in the past two to three years, we are doing everything we can to let others know that we are in a position to help more children right now,” Griffin said.
For more information on WinShape Homes or to refer a child to the program, visit http://www.winshape.org or call 1-800-232-2677 ext 54179.
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