When grown kids fly the nest, many people start making big plans – plans to remodel the house, take that vacation, buy that new car, or relocate to somewhere sunny and warm. But Anne Westbrook, Julie Baughan, and Jeremy Burnett had different plans. After their children, who had been friends for going on 15 years, left for college, God laid new children on their hearts. All three women, who have been friends for as long as their children, knew about Crossnore in Winston-Salem. Jeremy, a retired teacher, had driven by Crossnore (then The Children’s Home) for years. She started as a feeding volunteer for the farm animals. Anne worked in the Food Bank garden through her church, Centenary United Methodist, and Julie’s son had done his Eagle Scout project at The Children’s Home, building benches at the fire pit for the children to enjoy.
As the merger between The Children’s Home and Crossnore developed, Jeremy wanted to know how she could assist. Brett Loftis, Crossnore CEO, came to speak to a group who met at Jeremy’s house. “Where do we fit?” Jeremy asked him. “How can we help you the most?” Jeremy jokes that after her kids “had the audacity to grow up,” she felt an emptiness, a longing to help children who need love, stability, and positive relationships. After volunteering in several different roles, the three women joined forces and became Cottage Sponsors for a cottage on the Winston-Salem campus in March of 2018. They all say that in addition to getting to be with the children regularly, they love having a set day and time each week to spend time with each other. “It’s a perfect fit,” says Julie.
Each Wednesday afternoon, Anne, Julie, and Jeremy, head to the cottage, laden with art supplies, games, and toys for the children to enjoy. They have delighted in learning the specific children’s personalities, likes, and interests, as they determine what toy or craft to bring each week. They love to go through their now-grown children’s toys, puzzles, and craft supplies and think, “Who is going to love this?” Anne says, “[The kids] look forward to it so much. They love the one-on-one attention, and that we are showing interest in them.” Julie says that she loves to do chalk drawings on the sidewalks when it’s sunny outside. “I will trace their bodies with chalk and then let the children draw their face and color in their clothes. I love seeing the smiles on their faces and the smiles on the sidewalk.”
When asked what impact they hope to have, practically speaking, they say they want to give the Cottage Parents a small break. But on a deeper level, it’s all about showing the children love. “It shows the cottage parents and the children that others love and care for them,” says Julie. The three friends determined early on that they weren’t there to correct behavior or judge the children.
Anne says she’s learned to be flexible. “Our immediate response should be unconditional love. We react to what they need, and that can change week to week. We adjust to their needs,” she says. The women understand that there is so much in the children’s lives that they can’t control. “It’s hard stuff,” Anne says, “Not just hard stuff in their past but hard stuff in their present too.” Jeremy says she’s had to remind herself that although they are children, in many ways just like her own, they come from different backgrounds. “I’m just here to love them,” she states simply.
Growing in relationship.
It’s certainly obvious that this love is not one sided. Watching the kids fly across the room and run into the arms of their cottage sponsors every Wednesday is enough to make you tear up. Anne, Jeremy, and Julie all agree that the growth in trust and relationship with the kids is the most rewarding part. And they’re so thankful these children are at Crossnore. “They’re the luckiest of the unlucky,” says Jeremy. “And we have enough to share. Time. Money. There’s enough to share.” Anne smiles and adds, “It’s just like anything like this – the volunteer is blessed way more than the recipient.”
All three would encourage anyone who has a heart for foster children to find a way to get involved. “When you’re involved, you see where the money is going. You see what it’s doing. And you want to get more and more involved. You want to invest however you can to keep this going,” Jeremy says. And certainly these three women have invested even more than their time or money. They have clearly invested their hearts, and there’s nothing more valuable than that.
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