Wingate alumnus Tripp Wright crossed the commencement stage less than a year ago, but he is already making strides to change the world and his hometown.
A communication major with a minor in religious studies, and a former swim-team co-captain, Tripp Wright spent nine weeks after graduation on a faith-based apprenticeship in Thailand. He has since moved to southern Louisiana, where he started Heart for Iberia, a nonprofit that tackles need-based projects in New Iberia. The town, about two hours west of New Orleans, is where the 24-year-old is set on “making the world a better place, one person at a time.”
The nonprofit is brand new, with the IRS having granted it 501(c)(3) status as a public charity on March 13. But Wright already has student groups from Oklahoma and Texas visiting Iberia Parish for weeklong projects, and he’s brainstorming new ways to unite people to tackle issues such as lack of access to healthy foods and the need for mentors in the schools. His ideas stem, in part, from an internship completed while at Wingate.
Raised in a mission-minded family, Wright found Wingate’s “faith, knowledge, service” motto the right fit when he was finishing high school in Texas and looking for a place to learn and to swim. He also found people and opportunities to whet his growing appetite for service.
“I was so fortunate to have Larry Coleman in some courses,” Wright says of the longtime communication professor who died in February 2018. “He was always encouraging me to put others first. And no matter what was going on with him, with his battle with Parkinson’s Disease, he was always positive. My time with him wasn’t as long as I wanted it to be, but he showed me that whatever life holds for you, what you are here for is to serve others.”
Wright also spent a lot of time with religion professor Catherine Wright, whom he dubbed “Aunt Cathy” because of their shared surname. He was a regular in her Burris Building office. “I would go and sit there for hours just to talk, and she would listen,” Tripp Wright says. “When I thought I had done my best work academically, she would push me to strive higher.”
Wright says he spent roughly four hours a week with professors outside of his classes. He says Dr. Wright taught him the importance of being a student for life by always seeking to learn and by understanding that everyone has something to offer.
“She challenged me to embrace differences because diversity is powerful,” Wright says. It was a lesson reinforced by the swim team, where 13 of 19 members were from outside the U.S.
“Throughout my time at Wingate, my passion for international relationships grew because my best friends came from around the globe,” Wright says. “I really enjoy being around different cultures and different ideas.”
That passion led him to Thailand after graduation. He had planned to return there in a mission capacity and therefore began pursuing a master of arts in global service from Abilene Christian University, because it was largely an online program he could work on from halfway across the globe. But when his mentor had to return to the U.S. unexpectedly, Wright found himself in New Iberia, where his parents had relocated, and with some time on his hands.
That’s when the lessons he learned during an internship at Wingate prompted him to turn his passion for the world toward his neighbors down the street. “I thought about what I’d loved doing more than anything while in college,” he says, “and it had to be Heart for Monroe.”
Following his heart
Formed in 2014, Heart for Monroe serves as a sort of facilitator of volunteer efforts. By breaking huge needs into manageable tasks and posting service opportunities on its website, Heart for Monroe makes volunteering simple for anyone who wants to get involved. Wingate University is one of the organization’s five large community partners, and Heart for Monroe now has more than 65 churches and 35 nonprofits in its network.
As a sophomore, Wright volunteered to help with the organization’s Follow Your Heart 5K, which raises money to provide Title 1 schools with mentoring programs and supplies. He then got both the University's swim teams involved as running buddies and helped expand the event over the next two years. As an intern for Heart for Monroe his senior year, he spent much of his time mentoring in area elementary schools.
What Wright likes most about the organization is how it brings churches, businesses and individuals together to battle homelessness and hunger and to boost education and relationships.
“We were so fortunate to have Tripp serve as an intern,” says Ginger Walle, Heart for Monroe’s director. “We know Heart for Iberia, under Tripp’s leadership, will make a huge impact on those being served and those serving in New Iberia and beyond.”
Set up with a five-member board of directors, the nonprofit mirrors Heart for Monroe in that it seeks to identify community needs and recruit willing volunteers from all walks of life to address them.
Whereas Heart for Monroe has established its four target areas, Wright says his organization is still exploring local needs.
“We’ve just started with the idea of bringing people together. A lot of times we have different organizations who want to help, but their agenda gets in the way,” he says. “One of the main characteristics of our organization is that one-on-one, relational aspect of service. I want the main key to be relationships and see where that goes.”
He also sees Heart for Iberia as a training platform that plays host to outside groups willing to come in for short-term projects and then take what they learn back to their own communities. Earlier this month, a group of Oklahoma Christian University students spent their spring break working alongside local volunteers at a community garden, a fresh market and a free diner. They also spent time serving at the local Boys and Girls Club.
“When they take it back home, what they do doesn’t have to look exactly like what we do here,” Wright says. “The important thing is to see the needs and act on them. Sometimes we wait too long to get the perfect model. It’s really about creating opportunity.”
He says his time at Heart for Monroe taught him that service doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective.
After the mentoring program he was working with had been active for about three weeks at one school, he began getting feedback from the principal, who was amazed at the positive changes he was seeing in student behavior.
“All we did was get some adults to spend an hour once a week in the school, but if you love on these kids, they feel loved and they love on their classmates,” Wright says. “A lot of people think giving back takes a lot of money and resources. But we are a blessed nation with plenty of resources. All it really takes is recognizing someone else, being present and saying, ‘I will walk with you and we can learn together.’”
Wright sees Heart for Monroe and his new nonprofit as uniquely suited to add “grease to the wheel” and cut through the red tape that can bog down the best of charitable intentions.
“A lot of people want to give back, but when you work nine to five, it can be hard,” Wright says. “I believe a lot of people want to help, but they don’t necessarily know where to go or what to do. Also, when organizations do try to team up for an event, it can be about whose name is going to be on the banner.” His goal is to bring people from all walks of life together to engage in one goal.
“It’s as simple as ‘you have a heart, I have a heart, let’s do this, and God gets all the glory,’” he says. “Our slogan is ‘Uniting hearts to make a difference.’”
Wright says he found plenty of opportunities to make a difference while at Wingate, from One Day, One Dog projects to hosting Special Olympics aquatics events.
“While I was there, I got to see the amplification of opportunities to give back,” he says. “With our three pillars of faith, knowledge, service, I think the service one was being elevated a lot.”
Rather than “doing service projects,” he saw students adopting a lifestyle of service.
“The more opportunities we have to give back, the more we start to do and the more we are getting involved, to the point where you start to see, ‘Hey. that person could use an extra hand,’ and you just automatically do it,” Wright says. “You are embodying that lifestyle of service, so it’s not just something we do. It is who we are.”
To learn more about Heart for Iberia, check out the organization’s Facebook page.
March 29, 2019
- Alumni Spotlight