You just graduated from high school and are considering your options for what to do next. Do you take a short summer break and bury your head back in the books at college? Do you dive headfirst into the workforce by looking for a job? Or are you like the increasing number of students considering taking a gap year?
A “gap year” is typically a year-long break between graduating high school and attending college. Students taking a gap year usually participate in volunteer programs, take an extended vacation, travel, work as an intern, or dedicate some time to do some soul searching and better understand themselves to determine the proper path they should follow.
Taking a gap year is becoming more popular. As students’ benefits are better understood, schools like Harvard University, New York University, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) now encourage it. Many now offer their own university-sponsored gap year programs.
Impact 360 Institute
For those interested in taking a gap year and immersing themselves in a positive and faith-based educational program, Impact 360 Institute is the answer.
Nestled into the beautiful countryside of Pine Mountain, Georgia, the gap year program offered at Impact 360 Institute revolves around the three pillars of Know, Be, and Live:
- Know Jesus more deeply.
- Be transformed in your character.
- Live a life of Kingdom influence.
This isn’t just a slogan. It’s a carefully intertwined philosophy that’s woven into all aspects of the 67-acre campus and learning experience.
According to Eric Turner, Director of Operations at Impact 360 Institute, “‘Knowing’ is about head knowledge. Most colleges and universities only focus on head knowledge and not forming the character, which is the ‘Be.’ They are interested in communicating that their alumni are successful, but that is probably the extent of it. We offer a holistic and educational learning process, whereby our students actually go and do things. It isn’t just sitting in a classroom.”
Started by John and Trudy Cathy White, Impact 360 Institute was developed in 2006 to provide gap year students a solid foundation by studying the Christian worldview, living in a community, practicing servant leadership amongst their peers both locally and internationally, and preventing them from abandoning their faith in the college environment. The goal of the school’s nine-month gap year program is to create mindful change-agents in the world.
A new and recently constructed campus (completed in 2017) features beautifully designed school buildings, meticulously built to convey a sense of openness and inspiration to support the school’s mission of cultivating the next generation of leaders who follow Jesus. Tall multistory windows create a bright interior for students to learn and thrive.
“I’ve been excited to be a part of Impact 360 Institute since the beginning. Every square foot has been carefully designed to help us accomplish our mission,” explained Eric.
In addition to nearby parks, students can enjoy on- and off-campus activities such as biking, tennis, golf, hiking, volleyball, and swimming.
Impact 360 Institute’s Response to COVID-19
Nearly 40,000 students participated in some kind of gap year in 2019.
While taking a gap year has typically been done by a small percentage of the more than two million first-time college students each year, the coronavirus pandemic is expected to increase this number. For many, taking a gap year may not be a choice due to financial difficulties, many school campuses being closed or further delaying their reopening plans, or the safety concerns involved with traveling.
How has the COVID pandemic affected the Impact 360 Institute?
According to Eric, “Right now, we are pretty fortunate. It has required us to think through so many things we haven’t ever had to think about. Early on, there were concerns about COVID transferring on surfaces, so we had to scramble and get cleaning supplies, which was extremely difficult.”
“It’s been a season of answering questions, being creative, and thinking outside of the box. While other schools have sent their students home, we have really encouraged students to limit their travel on the weekends, wear a mask, and practice safe social distancing, which is especially hard for a younger population.”
“The team that operates the gap year program has done a phenomenal job! It’s amazing, and we pray to God that it continues. We haven’t had one case yet. It’s about creating a bubble and keeping that bubble.”
With fall temperatures dropping in Georgia, Eric explained, “We are now getting into the perfect season to be outside.” In addition to needing additional outdoor dining and sitting areas due to COVID-19, the students in the gap year program are encouraged to connect to nature – God’s creation.
“We do small group sessions in the mornings, where it can be 40 degrees F and then 70 degrees F in the afternoon. This is Georgia.”
Durable Outdoor Structures
In order to protect students from dramatic temperature swings and weather associated with the fall and winter seasons, Eric and the team at Impact 360 Institute set out to find a semi-permanent structure that could safely be anchored into concrete and designed to withstand a wind load of 70 miles per hour.
Initially, they had considered renting party tents to create covered outdoor dining and sitting areas, but were not satisfied with the look, using trash cans filled with sand and the amount of weight required to withstand gusts up to 70 miles per hour.
The team also considered installing shade sails to create a shaded area for students to gather outdoors safely. This idea was quickly decided against because it required the shade sails to be mounted directly into the building. According to Eric, “Our architects weren’t thrilled about the idea.”
“There was a tinge of desperation, but we weren’t going to make a mistake and buy the wrong thing. We needed to figure out a way to allow students to safely spend time outside. We have all sorts of porches and porticos, but there are two large open areas that would allow students to spread out and enjoy being outdoors, at least for a portion of their day. However, these two areas are sun-soaked.”
Eric explained that in addition to wanting an outdoor structure that offered superior stability, they also wanted a high roof to allow for greater air circulation. “We didn’t want to be under the structure, and it be hot.”
As luck would have it (or perhaps a bit of divine intervention?), a medical trip to a nearby Emory Healthcare facility resulted in Eric learning about WeatherPort® Shelter Systems (WeatherPort). The urgent care facility was using a WeatherPort Jubilee structure for patient screening and as a drive-through COVID-19 testing station. Upon seeing the outdoor structure, Eric asked the staff to do everything he could to find out where they got their tents.
According to Eric, “We were really grateful for finding you guys [WeatherPort]! Within 72 hours of learning that you had portable buildings in the sizes we needed in stock, we committed that we wanted them, and priority overnight delivery got the structures here the next day. They sat on our campus one day, and the next day they were being installed. We moved quickly on this.”
When asked how the assembly of their WeatherPort outdoor dining and classroom structures went, Eric said that he outsourced the installation to an experienced contractor. “I have a very fantastic Associate Director of Facilities. However, with all the things related to COVID going on, I wasn’t able to allocate the personnel and time for the setup.”
Impact 360 Institute has been using the outdoor classroom structures and covered dining areas for a little over two months. When asked about the quality and overall experience of working with WeatherPort, Eric offered the following statement:
“The outdoor structures are superior. The vinyl straps extend to the base and the fabric, the stretch makes the structures look very nice. The fabric material is very thick and holds its shape. It’s a league of its own. You get what you pay for. They are not cheap, but it is quality, and you know it will last. We feel very confident that it will withstand the winds and the elements it is rated to stand against.”
“Everything was consistent. The way that Carolyn (the WeatherPort building specialist) interacted with us, the payment processing, the fact that the documentation was so good — there were no surprises. You were consistently building your brand through each of those interactions and building our confidence. By the time the structures got here, and we got them up, we felt very good about our investment. Kudos to the WeatherPort Team!”
Nearly 300 graduates have completed the Impact 360 Institute’s gap year program. Students come from the United States and internationally attended to become motivated “changers” on college campuses and in life. If you would like more information about the Impact 360 Institute and their gap year program, please use the following:
For more information about outdoor classroom structures, covered dining areas, or custom designing an outdoor structure for your school, please contact a friendly WeatherPort building specialist using the following: