Hugs Bring Smiles
January 2023 Issue
by Edwina Hoyle
Photography by Cassidy Dunn Photography
Young people today are tech-savvy, and through apps like Instagram and TikTok, they encounter influencers who may be celebrities hawking products, or young adults with a huge number of followers earning money by endorsing products.
The true definition of an influencer, however, is someone who affects or changes the way other people behave. It’s someone who exerts influence to inspire or guide the actions of others. Kristi Wheat may not see herself as an influencer, but the seeds of her endeavors are bearing fruit to have a meaningful impact on children.
Kristi is the Office Manager/Executive Assistant to the Head of School at Cross Schools in Bluffton. “I manage the day-to-day operations. I’m the administrative support to the Cross Schools leadership team, as well as to the K-12 grade faculty and staff. I manage the school lunch program, internal communications and the student information software system.”
More importantly, she engages with parents, faculty and staff and students.
“This is a mission school, and I get to be part of the mission, and that’s a lifetime process,” she said. Cross Schools’ mission is to inspire future leaders to grow spiritually and academically by intentionally designing opportunities for inquisitive learning and active service all for the glory of God. Small classes, rigorous academics, various enrichment courses, community service, athletics and faith-based learning help prepare children to grow into collaborative thinkers with moral and spiritual principles.
Kristi said she was asked to take her position in 2014. “The school called me, and I took a leap of faith. I view my job as a gift.” There are more than 675 students in Cross Schools, she said, “I have a unique viewpoint, my perspective is much wider. I get to see and be part of the whole school each day. School days are fast paced. Every single day is different and an opportunity to have a fresh start.”
“Getting to tell a child that I love them is the best part of my job. And parents sometimes need someone to listen, so I put myself in their place. I want parents to feel their child is loved in Cross Schools as much as they are loved at home. My strength is supporting and loving.”
Sometimes parents call Kristi to tell her their child is going through a rough patch and ask her to check in with the child. Once Kristi noticed a girl who had tears in her eyes. “I told her whatever it is, it will be alright. She opened up and trusted me. It was an issue with a stepparent. I told her I had a stepfather and without him in my life, I wouldn’t be who I am today. She said our talk made a difference and later her stepmom thanked me. It’s important to stop and pause to make a small difference.”
Kristi continued, “Their gratitude brings me to tears. I can do something so small and have a large impact. It’s humbling to know I’ve helped someone on their journey. I try to pay it forward.”
“There are a lot of hurts, bumps and bruises in a school—teachers often bring the hurt child to me en route to the nurse’s office for hugs. And my connection with young adults is very rewarding. They have peer pressure, rigorous academics, problems with social media, SATs, college applications. All of this creates stress, worry and anxiety. They know they can reach out because we can talk about it safely and privately. Young adults love hugs, and hugs bring smiles.”
Jennifer Green is a parent of a Cross Schools student. She praised Kristi when she stated, “She works hard to make every day at school better and to be an example to our kids. She loves them well and supports them in everything. She is compassionate or tough, whatever she needs to be in a given situation. She is simply wonderful.”
Values in the Christian faith run deep throughout Kristi’s family. These values were modeled for her as a young child and are the reason she sends her own children to Cross Schools. “I’ve seen children grow into competent teenagers with kind friends—teenagers who have grown to know Jesus.”
Originally from Plano, Texas: Kristi calls herself a very proud Texas girl. At age 30 she decided to leave Plano to explore, and with only her dog for company, she drove across the country.
Moved to Bluffton in 2005: In 2006, she married her husband, Aaron, who’s from Maryland. She jokes she married a younger man. They have two children—Cannon and Caroline.
Past work experience: She has worked in marketing/advertising for Fortune 500 homebuilders and held various executive administrative roles for local governments.
Favorite Bible verse: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” —Proverbs 3:5-6.