The students come from different areas with differfent plans for their future, but their reasons for attending IMPACT 360 in Pine Mountain, Ga., are very much alike.
IMPACT 360 is a nine-month, gap-year program, the mission of which is preparing recent high school graduates to become Christ-centered servant leaders.
When asked this week why she chose to attend IMPACT 360 before going to college, Lexi Moon of Cochran, Ga., said she was thirsting for discipleship and that the program will allow her to grow in her Biblical knowledge and understanding of Christ's character. She hopes to be bolder in her faith.
School literature introducing the class of 2014 allowed other students to give their motivation.
For example, Heather Dockery of Belmont, N.C., who would like to one day operate a restaurant, said she came to the school hoping to learn more about the Bible and to be able to clearly communicate what she believes.
Lauren Bush of Carrollton, Ga., plans to be a physical therapist and is attending IMPACT 360 to grow in her knowledge of scripture, so she can defend her faith to people of other beliefs.
James Reamer II of Las Vegas is looking forward to a career in music education and hopes IMPACT 360 will encourage him to break out of his comfort zone and to dig deeper into the Word of God.
John D. Basie has been IMPACT 360's director since its start in 2006.
"We have students from 14 states in this year's class," he said.
This is the eighth class for the nonprofit program that has graduated 166 students.
Applicants are evaluated on community, church and school involvement, leadership experience, test scores and grade point average. Each is interviewed. This year, 39 students out of 84 applications were able to come.
IMPACT 360 is under the umbrella of the Lifeshape Foundation begun by John and Trudy Cathy White. She is the daughter of S. Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A, and students visit the restaurant's corporate headquarters in Atlanta to receive leadership training from company executives.
"The students who come here want to gain leadership skills, to be more confident in their faith and understand themselves better before going to a university," Basie said. "They are encouraged to ask a lot of questions. We tell them it is OK to express doubts. They also learn how to work through conflicts in a healthy way."
Basie said the program is interdenominational and open to all races. "God loves diversity," Basie said.
There is no particular doctrine taught. "We are not cookie cutter," Basie said.
Basie added that guests are always welcome.
The fee for the nine-month experience at the campus is $15,900. That covers room and board.
The school is located on 5½ acres on Ga. Highway 354. An addition to the main building has just been completed. It includes offices, a new classroom, larger dining area, a library and workout room.
There are 23 dorm rooms next to the main building. They were converted from motel rooms in the former Davis Inn. At least two students reside in each room.
Four of the staff's 10 members live on campus.
An expansion planned on land the foundation owns across the street will allow more students to attend. It should be done by 2016.
Fifteen meals a week are provided to students and staff by Moore's Whistling Pig Café in Pine Mountain, everything from Chinese to Italian. "It's all good," Basie said.
An example of courses offered are public communication, principles of management, introduction to ethics and contemporary Christian life and practice.
Students receive 18 hours of college credit from Union University in Jackson, Tenn.
Examples of topics discussed throughout the school session, September through May, are "Sexual Ethics," "God's Design for Social Order," "Christianity and Culture" and "The Morality of God."
Students attend class 9 a.m.-noon Monday through Thursday.
"There is a lot of reading outside of class, some 200-400 pages a week in a variety of books," Basie said. "There is also a lot of writing."
Class is held in what Basie called an "active classroom" where students sit in comfortable swivel chairs.
Instructions may be written and erased on classroom walls from which hang six large flat-screen televisions.
Each student has a laptop.
In class, the students are divided into groups and each group has an iPad from which they may project information on one of the televisions.
The professor stands in the middle of the class and each group has a hand microphone so everyone in the class can hear when they speak.
"Nobody can hide in the back of the class," academic program manager and instructor Ed Bort said.
Students have chores around the school and put in four hours a week serving the community in schools and shelters, including Valley Rescue Mission and Open Door Community House in Columbus.
A main beneficiary is FOCUS, a faith-based nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the less fortunate in Harris County. Most of that work is done on Fridays.
The program includes a month-long international mission trip in January to Brazil where the students work with the impoverished.
"We do everything from evangelism to running a camp ministry for children. We deliver food to orphanages," Basie said. Students have also been involved in some construction work.
Brazil was chosen because John and Trudy Cathy White spent 10 years as missionaries in the country.
The program capitalizes on the connection.
While the students help to change lives, they have their lives change, as well, as they see the great needs.
"Some student don't want to come back," Basie said. "They get so close to the kids there."
He feels the students have more compassion for the less fortunate after the trip.
Basie said the goal of IMPACT 360 is to prepare students to "share their faith and to defend it."
"I believe students who have been here will tell you that the mission is being accomplished," he said.