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.
Cathy, who passed away in 2014 at the age of 93, 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. Cathy was a big believer 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.”
For many of the kids, WinShape provides the first stable home environment they’ve had. 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.” And now, for others to continue his legacy.