The beginning of Trip and Jacqui Wheeler’s story is atypical. Their meeting was the result of Trip’s dad flirting with a dental assistant on Trip’s behalf and a resulting blind date that was a definite flop. The blind date didn’t pan out, but Jacqui happened to be there that same night. The two met, later fell in love, got married, and eventually moved from Charlotte to Grandfather Mountain.
Making the decision to get involved.
Trip and Jacqui don’t have children of their own, but have been very active in different animal rescues and homeless ministries in their communities. One day, a friend, Boots Carter, invited them to “Dinner on the Deck,” an event at the home of CEO Brett Loftis, where they learned more about Crossnore’s work. “We were both completely blown away,” says Jacqui. “Though I had heard about Crossnore, I had no idea how truly amazing it is. Brett took us on a tour and knew every child’s name, and they all shouted to him as we went by. It was so touching.”
When Trip and Jacqui moved to Grandfather Mountain permanently, they knew they wanted to be more involved at Crossnore. At a lunch with Brett where they expressed their desire to do more, Brett suggested they look into being Cottage Sponsors for one of the Avery campus cottages. Although they’ve only been cottage sponsors for a short while, Trip and Jacqui are already developing strong and lasting relationships with the children. “It’s awesome,” says Trip. “We don’t have children of our own, but instantly we gained seven kids! We get to be the cool aunt and uncle.”
A pleasant surprise.
Trip and Jacqui’s first outing with the kids was to a movie. Trip recalls, “They did everything kids should get to do. They ate the large popcorn and drank the giant drink. They each chose a blue icee. What’s with kids and icees?” he jokes. Jacqui adds, “After the movie, they all had blue tongues and giant smiles.”
Trip says he has been surprised by the kids’ reaction to them. He thought they would be shy and slow to warm up, but the children have immediately embraced Trip and Jacqui. “Our kids are crazy sweet,” he gushes. Jacqui says the thing that has surprised her most is Trip’s reaction. “He’s very introverted by nature. To see him enthusiastically engage with the kids has been so precious for me to witness. I am not sure I have ever seen him so excited about something!”
A commitment to be there.
Both Trip and Jacqui say they want to be a constant presence in the kids’ lives, to give the love and encouragement a family provides. In addition to weekly dinners at the cottage, they hope to bring them up to Grandfather Mountain this summer to enjoy the outdoors, the creek, and all the amenities that, up to now, the two of them have never used. They want to be at school awards ceremonies, programs, and sporting events. “I want to show up,” Trip says. “Be there. Do what I say I’m going to do. We want to be their cheerleaders. We want to say, ‘We’re proud of you. You’re amazing.’”
“I want to show up. Be there. Do what I say I’m going to do. We want to be their cheerleaders. We want to say, ‘We’re proud of you. You’re amazing.’”
Right now they are mostly having fun and establishing relationships with the kids, but in the long term, their desire is to have a greater impact. “I was a teenage runaway,” says Jacqui. “I took a very circuitous route to becoming the woman I am today. That path had many ups and downs that I imagine many of these children have faced or will face. I want to show them that we are all more than our circumstances. God has a plan and purpose for our lives and I hope to help them find and live out theirs.” Both hope to be positive role models in the children’s lives, an attachment that they can lean on over the years – “that maybe, when they’re 30, something we’ve done will have had a positive impact on their lives,” says Trip.
Trip and Jacqui agree that they are learning just as much as they are teaching. Jacqui is so inspired by the children’s resiliency and how they’ve been able to overcome their circumstances and adapt to their situation. “It’s a life lesson for all of us,” she says. Trip says that it has helped put things in perspective for him. “I used to sit in my office and worry about my business. That’s not a real problem. Now I know what’s important. [These kids] are important.”
Doing a little. Right where you are.
Watching Trip, Jacqui, and the kids laugh and play together, it’s obvious that the love is mutual. There are tickle fights, Minecraft sessions, games of tag, and general shenanigans of all sorts. There are meals shared, hugs given, and plenty of encouragement spread all around. You feel the magic of Crossnore, a sanctuary where children can make lasting relationships and strong bonds and thrive despite the difficulties they’ve experienced. “One visit to Crossnore will make you want to get involved,” says Jacqui. “This wasn’t something we were seeking out – or was even on our radar. It feels like God (and Boots Carter) directed our path to Crossnore, and it captured our hearts.”
When asked why he does it, Trip says, “If I can do a little bit right where I am, I’ve done a lot. I can help here. I don’t have to change the whole world. I can help right where I am. And in the end, I’m going to go meet God, and He’s going to ask me, ‘What did you do? What did you really do?’”
“If I can do a little bit right where I am, I’ve done a lot. I can help here. I don’t have to change the whole world. I can help right where I am.”
Because of God’s grace, Boots Carter’s invitation, and the openness of awesome children with amazing hearts, Trip and Jacqui will be able to say, “We showed up and we loved hurting kids.” That’s going to be a pretty fantastic answer.
If you’d like to find our more about our current needs and how you can get involved at Crossnore, please visit our website at crossnore.org/volunteer.