Interview with Wings of Texas founder, Michelle Jones – Building Inclusivity in Texas

November 29, 2023

Teri here and joining me is Michelle Jones, president and founder of Wings of Texas. Michelle is an amazing friend of mine! We’ll introduce you to her amazing family, talk about how we met, and go in-depth on what Wings of Texas has been doing to increase inclusivity for individuals with disabilities in the Coastal Bend area. We’ll be going over:

  • Meeting the Jones Family Team!
  • Wings of Texas | Increasing Community Inclusivity
  • Adaptive Star | A Yakima Partnership for Wings of Texas
  • What it Means to Be a Founder in the Adaptive Mobility Industry

Meet the Jones Family Team!

In the adaptive mobility industry, my clients are not usually just a single person looking for a push chair. They are a packaged deal with their families, and it takes a lot of teamwork to support individuals with disabilities. Michelle Jones comes with an amazing family: her sons Charlie and Thomas, and her husband, Rusty.

Charlie | The Jones Family Captain

Charlie is the star and captain of the Jones family! He’s an incredible young man who has faced so much adversity. He was born with cerebral palsy at just 24 weeks, weighing only 1 lb. 5oz. and measuring 10 inches long.

Charlie spent his first six months of life in the NICU. Before he left the hospital, he’d had over 60 surgeries. By the time he was two, he’d undergone over 100 surgeries, 80 of which were brain surgeries. Despite those obstacles, Charlie is now 24 years old, and his resilience continues to inspire those around him.

Thomas | Advocating for Inclusivity

Thomas is one of the unsung heroes of the Jones family’s story; he has shown incredible patience and kindness. Thomas was only 10 years old when Charlie was born. The doctors told Michelle at the time that Thomas was either going to embrace Charlie’s situation, or have a really difficult time with lashing out – maybe not always in a bad way, but just having to deal with a lot of potentially negative emotions.

Thomas truly embraced Charlie.

He went on to pursue his dreams of going into politics, and attended a prestigious law school in Washington DC. However, he realized that career politics wasn’t what he wanted to do. He instead returned home to make a difference in Corpus Christi by advocating powerfully for individuals with disabilities.

Rusty | Equipment Manager

Rusty is Michelle’s husband. He’s spent 27 years contracting with the US Navy working on million-dollar aircraft. Because of this, Rusty is an exceptional equipment manager for Wings of Texas. He keeps everyone’s chairs maintained, safe, and operational.

In the beginning, Rusty would get to the competitions an hour early, get all the race chairs ready, aligned, and safe. He would never complain about running, but he didn’t really like it. Now, he and a friend are training for the Houston Marathon with Charlie, and they’re expecting to PR!

We go hard on Adaptive Star’s equipment and have zero problems.

Wings of Texas | Increasing Community Inclusivity

Wings of Texas has been operating for about a decade now! It all started when Michelle and Rusty participated in a Biggest Loser 5k run in Austin. The Jones family was wanting to improve their overall health and stay active together, and they pushed Charlie in a standard wheelchair. They even had an encounter with a chapter of Ainsley’s Angels.

After the race, runners approached the Jones family to express their gratitude. They shared that Charlie had been their motivation to keep going and complete the run. Witnessing Charlie’s joy and seeing the impact he had on others inspired Michelle and Rusty to establish Wings of Texas.

What is Wings of Texas Doing Right Now?

Wings of Texas has expanded to include a team of 96 Angels (their wonderful, dedicated volunteers) and 50 Captains who are the individuals with disabilities that are being supported. The mission statement of Wings of Texas is to create a more inclusive environment in the Coastal Bend area for people to work, live, play, and learn.

While Wings of Texas continues to engage in activities like cycling, running, and triathlons, they also have introduced some new activities like bowling and dancing. Over the last two years, they’ve put on a ball. The first year, 26 individuals with disabilities attended. At this year’s ball, they nearly doubled that with 46 individuals with disabilities and over 130 others attending.

Additionally, Wings of Texas has an annual “Spirit of the ADA” awards ceremony. The ceremony is a formal, sit down dinner that gives the organization an opportunity to thank people the community who have made a difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities. They’ve done this for the last two years. Michelle believes it has opened the doors significantly for the community to see not only what needs to be done, but what’s also being done right.

Just because you have a disability doesn’t mean you can’t participate in life and activities, or that you don’t deserve the same things. It’s pretty incredible!

What is Wings of Texas Looking Forward To?

From when I first met Michelle to now, I’ve seen such an increase of inclusivity in the Coastal Bend area, particularly in the last year. As Wings of Texas has grown and proven that they’re not going anywhere, people have started to notice.

Michelle was recently invited to help engineers plan for more inclusive bicycling routes. The organization is continuing to expand and people are being brought in. Wings of Texas has also been increasing its educational outreach. They’ve done many trainings with schools, police departments, and hospitals discussing how to navigate some of the specific challenges individuals with disabilities may be facing.

What Organizations Has Wings of Texas Partnered With?

Adaptive mobility is a team effort. Wings of Texas has formed partnerships with many organizations in the Coastal Bend region, and they continue to have an impact on local inclusion.

Driscoll Children’s Hospital is one of the largest regional hospitals in the area; the Jones family uses Driscoll Health Plan. Driscoll has really embraced Michelle’s family and been one of the main sponsors for Wings of Texas. Michelle has helped the hospital with education and trainings as well.

Two years ago, Thomas got involved in Leadership Corpus Christi – an intensive training leadership program. Now, he’s an assistant teacher and plans to be leading and teaching an entire class next year. This relationship has opened up many local doors for Wings of Texas, along with putting Thomas in contact with state representatives about inclusivity.

Michelle also wanted to give a big shoutout to the Valero Texas Open, a huge golf tournament through Valero Fuel that puts millions of dollars towards Texas charities. Over the last few years, Valero had gifted Wings of Texas a couple of chairs, or held a barbecue fundraiser. But last year, Valero awarded Wings of Texas a $55,000 grant to buy a van. The van was a much needed tool for bringing Captains to events, pulling their equipment trailer, and giving the organization an increased sense of legitimacy.

Wings of Texas is SO grateful for the support of these organizations!

Adaptive Star | A Yakima Partnership for Wings of Texas

Adaptive Star – all the way out in Yakima – is another organization that has partnered with Wings of Texas. They use our race chairs. I first met Michelle at the Louisiana Marathon in 2015, and it was the best finish line I have ever crossed!

I asked Michelle to put me with the slowest team she had, and she said, “Okay, I’ll put you with the boys.” I thought that would mean some really old men, or maybe some young kids who had never done a marathon before. NO! That meant Charlie and a team of five young Marines who firmly believed in, “No man left behind.”

It was a hard day, and those Marines were running circles around me and Charlie, but I was so honored that I got to run with them! That was how I got to meet Michelle and experience firsthand how my chairs were working for people.

What it Means to Be a Founder in the Adaptive Mobility Industry

Michelle is looking forward to another great year with Wings of Texas. I asked her what it personally meant to be the grassroots founder of an adaptive mobility organization like this.

It’s been such a blessing! If you’d told me 10 years ago that we would accomplish what we have, I wouldn’t have believed it. I’m just doing what I’m supposed to: taking care of my family. This journey has been incredible, and it’s taught me that I don’t know everything about raising an individual with disabilities. But I’m continuously learning and growing, thanks to the amazing people in my life. This experience has truly transformed my life and strengthened my family unit.

Ultimately, we aim to help individuals with disabilities cross as many finish lines as possible.

Thank you so much for joining us on this post! If you’re ever in the Coastal Bend area and want to learn more about inclusivity or connect with Michelle, you can find Wings of Texas here or on Facebook. I highly recommend joining them for an event or participating in a run. It might just change your life!