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This century-old child welfare organization is rooted in ingenuity, service, and transformation

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Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the High Country sits Crossnore Communities for Children, a child welfare organization that has been serving foster children and their greater community for over a century. Their mission is to “create healthy futures for children and families by providing a Christian sanctuary of hope and healing.”

Crossnore has three locations: the original campus in Crossnore, another in Winston-Salem, and a third in Hendersonville. Recently, Crossnore announced the public phase of a $41 million campaign to enhance initiatives at their three existing locations and expand their services into the Charlotte metropolitan area. The organization also just received approval from the State Board of Education to open a charter school in Winston-Salem.

Crossnore’s CEO Brett Loftis has long been passionate about child welfare. With a career as a lawyer in child advocacy, making the world a better place for vulnerable children is his life’s work. He hopes to continue to transform child welfare to better serve children, through Crossnore and through larger scale changes to a fraught system.

The continuum of care at Crossnore. Courtesy of Crossnore Communities for Children

“A big barrier with children in the child welfare system is that people don’t see them and you can’t be motivated to respond and to support someone you don’t really know exists. Part of our role at Crossnore is to help people see them. We want people to see children in child welfare. They didn’t do anything to deserve the situation that they’re in. It’s not their fault. And they don’t need to be hidden away as some secret in the state. They’re our kids, and if we can draw attention to them and their needs, we believe people will respond.”

Brett Loftis, CEO of Crossnore Communities for Children

Medical missionaries transform a mountain community

To gain a better understanding of Crossnore, its current services, and its expansion plan, it is critical to consider their origin story, which is inextricably linked with their current mission and operations.

“I think all the time about the number of things that we do now that were started 110 years ago I mean, truly, out of necessity,” said Loftis.

Started by medical missionaries Dr. Mary Martin Sloop and her husband Dr. Eustace Sloop, Crossnore was officially founded in 1913. The Sloops were passionate about providing education and health care for their neighbors and greater community. They established a joint medical practice with a location in Crossnore.

The Sloops did their best to fulfill the educational and health care needs on their own, but in 1917 they founded the Crossnore School to expand their efforts. The history of the school is built into its foundation, with the help of local Linville rocks. Many of the buildings can be found on the National Register of Historic Places.

“That’s one of the cool things about the mountains, too, is that there’s such a spirit of creativity and ingenuity because there was no infrastructure. People just had to figure it out, and that’s kind of in the ethos of who Crossnore is. We don’t really get bogged down in the way systems are now. Because all of those systems were built and they can be rebuilt,” said Loftis.

Rethinking systems of care

Today the Crossnore School offers many services beyond the academic, including residential, case management, adoption placement, and outpatient therapy services. Williams Academy, the only public charter school in Avery County, is located on their campus.

Two Crossnore children embracing. Courtesy of Crossnore Communities for Children

Two years ago, Crossnore began its Bridging Families program. The program is a professional foster care pilot, which aims to professionalize foster care through hiring certified and trauma-informed trained professionals to be foster parents and paying those parents a salary. The foster parents, or bridge parents as they are called in this model, are trained in the Sanctuary Model that supports the parents in multiple dimensions — spiritually, socially, educationally, and emotionally. The bridge parents are also compensated financially. These parents care for children in a licensed Crossnore home and work toward reunification with birth parents.

“We do horrific harm to kids in the system that really exacerbates their existing trauma. Professional foster parenting and our model is trying to change that. Our model is called Bridging Families because these are professionals that are trying to bridge the way back home for these kids. They’re not only working with the children, they’re working with the biological family, to try to prepare them and help them and mentor them and coach them,” said Loftis.

Expanding successful programs

In addition, Crossnore also offers a Youth Independent Living program, which helps young adults move towards independent living. The goal of the this program is to help residents transition towards independent living while offering a safety net of care, including assistance with finding future housing, enrollment in postsecondary education, finding employment, continued therapy, and enrollment in health care services.

“I do think there’s a lot of misunderstanding or lack of understanding around the child welfare system,” said Loftis. “People still ask ‘Well, what did this child do to get into foster care?’ They didn’t do anything. They were just born like the rest of us and some of us were born in a home where our needs were taken care of and that we were fed and protected and some of us were born in places where that wasn’t true and none of us did anything to deserve either those outcomes good or bad.”

As Crossnore pursues expansion into more communities and to serve additional children, it plans to stay true to its mission of reimagining the child welfare system and better serving foster children, their families, and communities. They hope their trauma informed approach to care will be further integrated into the child welfare system. No matter the time the change takes, Crossnore plans to stay true to the mountain roots and spirit of service that they have carried with them for the past 100 years.

“Trauma puts you in a place of scarcity and believing that you may not have what you need to survive. Part of our resilience is our belief in abundance. We really believe that there are resources out there and that people care about children and if they could just understand that kids in foster care really belong to all of us, then they’ll respond,” said Loftis.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect that the Miracle Scholars and Stepping Stones programs are now part of Crossnore’s current Youth Independent Living program.

Alli Lindenberg

Alli Lindenberg is an executive fellow for EducationNC.