What could be better than winning a free vacation to Pigeon Forge, Tenn.? Coming home with an additional $10,000 might do it.
That’s what happened to the Shreve family of Lone Oak, who entered into the Pigeon Forge Family Challenge never truly expecting to be one of five families selected. Other families hailed from Alabama, Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee.
Melisa Shreve heard of the challenge through a sweepstakes site where she was a member.
“They were looking for a family that was active and had kids between eight and 17,” she said. “We had four daughters that fit that age range and time frame, however only two kids were allowed to compete. I knew we had to send in our video quickly because it was a voting contest, so we had a family meeting to see who was interested in competing.”
It was decided that Johnny, Melisa and their two daughters, Abigail and Rachel, would compete in the challenge and a video was quickly submitted.
“The voting was by far the hardest part,” said Shreve. “There were many days I spent 15 hours a day on the computer asking people to vote for us. The rules stated that only one vote per person 13 and older, per e-mail address, per day would be accepted, so we did what we could to get the word out around Lone Oak, at the middle and high school and via Facebook.”
All together the Shreve family received more than 4,000 votes in the 28-day period.
“It’s hard to describe the relief and joy we all felt surviving that first round of voting,” said Shreve. “We thanked God for strength as well as the support we received from many of our friends, family and even strangers who not only voted for us, but encouraged us to hang in there on the many days we were behind in votes.”
After surviving both rounds of voting and being told they were one of the families selected to compete, the Shreve family began packing for a week in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., courtesy of a $2,000 check sent to them to cover travel expenses.
“That money was a huge blessing,” she said.
The challenges the family would have to compete in were posted in the rules, giving them a chance to practice things like throwing toilet seat “horse shoes,” and study up on Pigeon Forge, country music and Titanic trivia for the “Advantage” trivia rounds.
Challenges mirrored regular vacation activities in the gateway city to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Challenges included a timed go-cart race at The Track, a stick horse race at Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede, a Zorb obstacle course and trivia test at the Titanic Museum Attraction. The final challenge was on a stomach-churning ropes course 90 feet off the ground at Dollywood.
“The challenges were a lot of fun, but the last was scary for the girls and me,” said Shreve. “We had never done a ropes course before, there were no practice runs for us, and I’m terrified of heights. We were told if we slipped off the ropes we would have to pull ourselves back onto the course and we couldn’t have any help doing that. It was very intense.”
They pulled it off, however, and in addition to winning the $10,000 prize, they also got the chance to meet Dolly Parton, who made a special surprise appearance to present the winner with the oversized check and trophy, as well as the runner-up with a smaller $2,500 prize.
“Our feelings when Johnny crossed the finish line were tremendous joy and gratitude,” she said. “It was such a feeling of relief to know we were going to be able to give the money to Rachel and that her first few years at Paris Junior College were going to be paid for. She has no money saved and we were in a position that many families are in where our household income was too much to qualify for financial aid, but not enough to enable us to save the thousands and thousands of dollars it takes to get one child through college, much less five.”
The family was extremely grateful that Pigeon Forge and companies like Upromise, who awarded their son a $25,000 scholarship three years ago, have used some of their advertising dollars to invest in the lives of families.
“We are grateful beyond words,” said Shreve.
The Shreve family gave 10 percent of their winnings to their church and the rest has been deposited into an account for Rachel’s college. She plans on attending PJC, though she is undecided as to a major, though she knows she wants to work with children in some capacity.
“It was awesome seeing the webisodes online,” said Shreve. “We didn’t realize how much nerves came to play in our facial expressions. Our family will be talking about this for years and years to come. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we are so grateful we got to be a part of it.”
The family plans on going back to Pigeon Forge, which was on their vacation to-do list for more than 14 years, before the start of this school year.
“We have the week filled with activity and since we have season passes, we are going back to Dollywood, too,” said Shreve. “We can’t wait. It’s the best family vacation place we have ever been to. There is definitely something for everyone to enjoy ... kids and adults of all ages.”
Johnny Shreve works at L-3 Communications Integrated Systems in Greenville and Melisa is a stay-at-home mom who cares for her five children; Caleb, Rachel, Abigail “Abby”, Rebekah and Sarah.
The Pigeon Forge Family Challenge webisodes, hosted by Patricia Lopez, can be viewed at http://www.mypigeonforge.com/familychallenge/webisodes.aspx.