Truett Cathy, remembered as the founder of Chick-fil-A, passed away on Monday at the age of 93. The family businessman and founder of the WinShape Foundation was the 2008 recipient of the William E. Simon Prize for Philanthropic Leadership, an award given to America’s most inspiring and successful donors. In the following excerpt from Philanthropy’s forthcoming Fall magazine, we give tribute to Truett Cathy and the legacy he leaves behind.
Truett Cathy knew what it took to succeed. He grew up in the first federally funded housing project in Atlanta, began delivering newspapers and selling sodas at the age of eight to bolster his family’s income, and eventually helped his mother run a boarding house to make ends meet.
Today, Cathy is remembered as the founder of Chick-fil-A, a $3 billion per year family-run business. He never forgot where he came from, though, or what helped him climb the economic ladder—a strong character formed by a loving family. It’s been 30 years since Cathy started the WinShape Foundation, so called because it aims to “shape winners.” The foundation supports college scholarships, summer camps, and all sorts of other opportunities for disadvantaged children.
“The number one problem in America today is unloved children,” Cathy once told Philanthropy. WinShape supports 13 foster homes, mostly in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama, each overseen by a married couple—the Cathys are big believers in the importance of a strong marriage in raising children. “The best gift a mother and dad can give to their children is to love each other and live under the same roof.”
Every child in a WinShape home is encouraged to participate in extracurricular activities, with all supplies provided. Children are given professional counseling, tutoring, and medical care. All WinShape families enjoy a beach vacation each summer, and each child experiences two weeks at WinShape Camps.
For many of the kids, WinShape provides the first stable home environment they’ve experienced. In an interview with a TV station in Texas, one foster parent said of a 13-year-old girl who came to his house: “She had never spent the same year in the same school…. The first couple nights when she came, she said we were the first people in her life that told her that we loved her.” One supporter describes WinShape as not an institution, but a family. Indeed, Cathy encouraged children to call him “Grandpa” and served as legal guardian for many of them over the years.
Trying to help kids from difficult backgrounds is not easy. “There are a lot of disappointments in working with young people,” Cathy once said. “You have to be prepared for that. But there are enough rewards that motivate me to keep doing what I’m doing.”
This is an excerpt written by Naomi Schaefer Riley from Philanthropy’s 2014 Fall magazine, coming soon.