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A young heart full of grace


In a world where our youth are often misjudged, dismissed, and overlooked, we are thankful to be in a field of work that sees children for who and what they are – beautiful beings created in the image of God – and blessed to get to watch them overcome, grow, advocate, and succeed every day. We see this with the kids we serve through our foster care, clinical services, Day Treatment, and Youth in Transition programs. And we see it in our youth who donate, volunteer, and fight for a cause they believe in.

A passion to make a difference.

One such volunteer is 16-year-old Julianna Rieker, an amazing Winston-Salem teen with a heart for children in foster care. When Julianna found out about Crossnore, it wasn’t enough for her to just think about those walking a hard road. It wasn’t enough to sit idly by and look on, as an outsider, at the plight of those hurting around her. Julianna followed her burdened heart. It walked her right into passionate action, and she’s never looked back.

Julianna and her mother, Lisa, drove by Crossnore every day and, therefore, were familiar with the organization. Julianna’s mother says that she and her husband know how difficult in can be for kids to navigate the challenges of growing up, even in stable homes. Thus, they developed hearts for children in foster care, realizing the added challenges and uncertainty these children face.

In the fall of 2017, after Lisa introduced Julianna, only 14 at the time, to a Crossnore staff member at church, Julianna knew she wanted to help out in some way. Through that connection, she learned that the Crossnore children received gifts for Christmas, but not necessarily stockings. Julianna came up with an awesome plan to stuff 50 stockings, one for each of our residential children on our Winston-Salem campus. Julianna is a student and swim team member at Raegan High School, and came up with the idea of a swim-a-thon, which she named “Swim a Mile for a Child” to raise the funds for the stockings.

Making it happen.

Julianna reached out to fellow students, coaches, swim teams, businesses, Girl Scout troops, youth groups, friends, and family to make the event happen. Forty-six swimmers, most of whom were children, recruited donors for their laps and participated in that first event in 2017, raising more than ten times the needed amount for the stockings. Julianna reached back out to Kim King, our Director of Community Outreach, to see what other needs our children had. When told that children often come into foster care with only a garbage bag for their clothes and belongings, Julianna purchased personalized, monogrammed, LL Bean duffle bags for each child. She then gave a check to Crossnore for the remaining amount. In the first year, through her event, Julianna raised over $4,600.

But she didn’t stop there. In 2018, Julianna held the event again, raising $8,300. She purchased and packed stockings for each child in residential care AND in our community foster care homes, bought each of our residential children a pair of Nike gym shoes, and blessed us with yet another check with the remaining funds. In 2019, Julianna held the event, yet again, raising $7,800. Once again, she provided stockings for both our residential and community-based children and donated a large check with the leftover money, to use however we see fit.

In just three years, her efforts have raised more than $20,000 for our children. Julianna, now a Junior at Raegan, hopes to raise $10,000 with the 2020 event, and is also hoping to find someone to take over and manage the event once she heads off to college, where she hopes to go into the medical field.

Serving from the beginning.

Julianna’s parents have instilled in her a heart for Jesus and for others. She has been involved in different service projects since she was very young, including providing groceries to less fortunate families through an Easter outreach with her church to providing meals at the Ronald McDonald House with her dad. Lisa, her mother, says, “Julianna is very sensitive, caring, and thoughtful. The idea of helping other kids really spoke to her heart.” And once her heart had been pricked, there was no stopping her.

But Julianna knows she hasn’t done this alone, and credits so much of the event’s success to others. “I am very appreciative of all the help I’ve had to run the event,” she says. “Many friends help count laps and do other things for the swimmers. Many coaches help to spread the word to their swimmers. And it is really the generosity of the people in the community that makes the event a success. I am also really thankful for the support and great relationships I have built with the Crossnore staff over the years.”

Be the change.

There are so many lessons here, not the least of which is that you’re never too young to make an impact on the world. When you see an opportunity, don’t sit back and wait for someone else to be a solution. YOU be the change. Take the action. Make the difference.

The other lesson? We don’t get anywhere on our own. Julianna knew she needed a team behind her to make this event, and the resulting blessings, a reality. But it was her passion that spearheaded the movement and inspired that team. Our Director of Community Outreach, Kim King, said, “Julianna has taught me, and all of us, so much about leadership, determination, compassion, and the importance of a giving spirit.”

As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we are reminded of this truth – that the power of compassion, empathy, determination, and drive really can change the world. The greatest hope for change and the power of feet-on-the-ground action lies with our youth. In the words of Anne Frank, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.”

Julianna didn’t wait.

You don’t have to either.

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”