Andrew and Melissa hold a special place in my heart. They are in the small group of couples that I call my “wedding babies.” They believed in me, despite my lack of experience, and let me document their wedding day. I will forever love them for that gift and part of me will forever be apologizing because of the things I wish I would’ve known back then. But even more than their trust in me, I am grateful for the people they are and the work they do. When we first met, I learned that they were both social workers serving in positions that most people couldn’t handle for more than a day. Melissa was going into homes where abuse was reported and determining whether a child should stay or be taken from the parents. Andrew was serving as a family counselor.

Fast forward a year into their marriage. These two decided to take on a joint challenge. They moved back to the place where they met, in the mountains of Boone, NC and started working as a team for The Crossnore School. It’s a Christian sanctuary for children from families in crisis. Most of the kids have been in foster situations from a very young age, bouncing from family to family, unable to find a permanent place to call home. At Crossnore, they live in group homes with “cottage parents”. Andrew and Melissa work in this role and live every other week in a house full of seven teenage boys. They make their meals, help with homework, play games with, and do all the things parents have to do to keep a household running. They also deal with the harsh effects of the conditional or total lack of love that many of these boys received from absent or abusive parents.

This past November, Melissa and Andrew opened up their mountain home to me and Mark while they were on duty at Crossnore. We love love LOVE mountains and will jump at any excuse to take a trip west, so we felt like we won a trip giveaway to our favorite location. It also gave us a chance to spend time together without screaming children to distract us (thank you Grandma and Grandpa!). During our trip, Andrew and Melissa let me do a short photo session of them and their sweet Copper to document their year anniversary. It was so fun seeing them in their married life. They seem so comfortable with each other. Their situation is unique in that they live, work AND PARENT SEVEN BOYS together. It’s challenging keeping a marriage healthy with two kids….how do they do seven??! I guess that’s why they get every other week off…

After our mini shoot, Andrew impressed us with his gourmet coffee making skills. I’m not a coffee drinker but if Andrew was around, I’d have to reconsider. Then they gave us a tour of Crossnore and some of the buildings on the property. Due to privacy restrictions, I wasn’t able to take pictures of the kids, but I tried to capture some images of the grounds. It is a beautiful setting, and so peaceful. They showed us the Fine Arts Gallery where local artists showcase their talents to help support the mission of The Crossnore School. The Weaving Room is a working museum that preserves the Appalachian art of hand-weaving, providing employment for local residents, as well as a student work program. The Blair Fraley Sales Store is the largest thrift store in the High Country, and is also part of the student work program, providing part-time work for some students.

Most impressive to me and Mark was the way Andrew and Melissa spoke about the kids. They are committed to changing the way these children understand love, making it unconditional, without judgement, and long-lasting. We walked away with such admiration for the two of them and for Crossnore’s mission. Andrew was putting the hard sell on Mark to come back and run a soccer clinic for the boys, so hopefully we can visit again soon. If you want to learn more about Crossnore’s mission, check out their website HERE.

And if charitable giving was on your list of New Year’s resolutions, this is an exceptional organization with a very worthy cause. You can donate HERE.

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