WinShape Retreat – A Safe Haven

In the midst of one of the most destructive Atlantic storms in recorded history, WinShape Retreat became a safe haven and temporary home for many who had been displaced.

Earlier this year, Hurricane Irma took a destructive path through the Caribbean before making landfall at the tip of Florida. It was most intense Atlantic hurricane to strike the U.S. since Katrina in 2005, leaving it no surprise that tens of thousands of Florida residents were ordered to evacuate.

Several of WinShape’s ministry partners were displaced due to the threat of Irma, giving WinShape Retreat a unique opportunity to utilize the Mt. Berry campus to provide these families a place to temporarily call home.

In the midst of the storm, WinShape Retreat became a place of refuge.

While winds were picking up in Florida, there was a flurry of activity in Mt. Berry, Georgia. Reservations staff worked with WinShape leadership to communicate with potential ministry partner guests, and Operations staff immediately developed a plan of action to serve the families. On short notice, team members from various Operations departments worked together to assemble beds in the cabins.

Refrigerators and microwaves were purchased and delivered to the cabins to provide guests additional conveniences during their stay. Housekeeping staff made sure the cabins were cleaned and ready, all while balancing a full schedule of turning over rooms at Retreat and The Normandy Inn.

Some of the families arrived in the middle of the night, eager to escape interstate traffic jams from Florida residents evacuating into Georgia and beyond. What should have been a nine-hour drive took one family 16 hours, while another group of families drove non-stop for 25 hours.

Alan Dimmitt, Founder and CEO of the Liberty Youth Ranch, led two families with a combined total of 18 foster children to the safe haven at WinShape Retreat. Most of the kids had attended WinShape Camp during the summers and were familiar with the area, which Alan said was invaluable in easing the stress of having to flee their normal routines and homes. Feeling safe is an important part of the children’s development, and Alan and the foster parents knew the anxiety of leaving their safe environments could have been traumatic. Because of their WinShape Camps experience, it wasn’t.

“It was an eerie trek as cars were bumper-to-bumper going north, with no traffic heading south,” Alan said. “The kids picked up on that. As much as we wanted to shelter them, there was no way to hide that. It normally takes 12-13 hours to get here, but it took double the amount of time. When we finally pulled onto campus, one of the girls said, ‘We’re at WinShape. We’re safe now.’ To hear her say those words was wonderful. One of her greatest challenges was feeling safe, and we knew this evacuation would be emotionally overwhelming,” he explained.

Liberty Youth Ranch’s families spent the week in and around the cabins re-enacting their own sock wars – a great memory from their camp experience – and exploring the trails and woods surrounding WinShape Retreat. The kids played board games and socialized with the children from other safe haven families.

But the hospitality the families experienced within the sequestered environment at Retreat extended beyond the Mountain Campus. They connected with a local church, where one family generously invited them into their home for a meal. One of the foster parents needed dental work, and a local dentist graciously served him at no charge. Over the weekend, they all attended a Berry College football game, eager to find comfort in something that felt normal while the fate of their homes was still uncertain.

Alan explained that while the fear of Irma’s aftermath weighed heavily on their minds, the families were able to deal with the stress because of their newfound safe haven and the hospitality of those who hosted them at WinShape.

Even in the midst of destruction and displacement back home, transformation was able to take place in the hearts and minds of 28 individuals who sought refuge of the storm at WinShape Retreat, each seeking a sense of calm and safety that they quickly found.

“It was a God-filled time and we all feel WinShape, like Mrs. Cathy said, is holy ground. We had such rest from the unseen battles that I believe are there always impacting us without our awareness. Beyond the wonderful programs, and comfortable clean rooms, and delicious food, I believe that the spiritual space created by prayer had the biggest impact on improving our productivity and relationships.”

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