KIMBERLY — Kara Vassar was a self-proclaimed “prayer lady,” always attending mass, but never volunteering.
It wasn’t until she enrolled her children at Holy Spirit School in Kimberly that Vassar began dabbling in volunteer work. Today, it’s what she does best both locally and internationally, and through Holy Spirit’s Ripples of Hope group, Vassar is encouraging others to find opportunities to share their gift of time to help those in need.
“I always felt like my hobby was doing things for other people,” Vassar said.
Vassar married her husband, Ken, in 1998, and the couple soon had two sons, Samuel, 19, and Luke, 17. The Vassars attended St. Pius X Parish in Appleton before joining Holy Spirit Parish, just down the street from their home and the perfect place to send their kids to school. It was at this time that Vassar said her relationship with the parish shifted from that of attendee to volunteer.
“My husband and I are more introverted people, so our kids kind of forced us to get outside of our comfort zone,” Vassar said. “I was the prayer lady. I took a couple of trips to Medjugorje, and I was in rosary groups. I was the prayer girl. I could do that, but my second son has a life-threatening peanut allergy, and once he went to school, we really had to step up. We got involved.”
Once bitten by the volunteering bug, Vassar was soon looking for new opportunities.
“There were lots of stuff that we could do to volunteer within the school, but then my kids kind of got older, and it was like, ‘OK, now what can I do?’” Vassar said.
Her work quickly expanded beyond Holy Spirit. She went on mission trips to Ethiopia, becoming a board member of a program that helps orphans and widows and works to find sponsors for children. Kara and her husband’s work led to the adoption of two children from Ethiopia, Kal, 13, and Dee, 12, who were 3 and 2 years old at the time. That is when she started wondering how she could do similar work closer to home.
The answer came after Vassar read “Fields of the Fatherless: Discover the Joy of Compassionate Living” with a small group from the parish. The book, written by Tom Davis, encourages people to become Christ to those in need, and it inspired the group to form Ripples of Hope in November 2014.
“We read this book, and we all said, ‘Wow, that was amazing,’” Vassar said. “It talks about how you can help the single moms, how you can help the people who are taking care of kids in foster care, how you can help people that adopt, how can you help people in poverty. We were like, ‘Wow, we can’t just stop here. We have got to do something. What can we do?’ So we brought some ideas to the parish, and then Ripples of Hope was formed.”
Ripples of Hope, which combined with the Social Concerns Committee, works to support those in need and spread God’s love around the world. The group started by providing Christmas assistance to families in the parish, and this eventually led to the annual sponsorship of 15 families. Volunteers adopt families and purchase gifts that are wrapped and delivered.
Ripples of Hope also provides Thanksgiving meals to local families and helps with the parish’s free Sunday Suppers. The group has partnered with Rock the Block in Menasha and hosts an annual brat fry to raise money for the church. They even deliver treats and flower baskets to locals all throughout the community just to brighten people’s days.
Vassar, who committed to leading the Ripples of Hope committee for five years, said word of the program has spread, and people are generously reaching out to supply donations and time, even if it’s a couple of hours to help package nutritional meals for Feed My Starving Children, which delivers food to children around the world.
In the last year, Holy Spirit Parish began partnering with St. Anthony Parish in Neopit to continue its mission of helping others. Inspiration for the partnership came from mission work like Vassar’s in Ethiopia, and the hope is to grow both parishes through faith formation, pen pal programs, food and clothing drives, and other charitable work.
Vassar said leaders of the parishes are currently working on a plan to develop the relationship.
“Right now, we are just trying to get everybody introduced to each other, and that’s going to be coming up,” Vassar said. “I think there are so many opportunities to do things (locally). You don’t have to go all the way across the world to go and do something like that.”
When they have time, Vassar and her family enjoy their cabin in Lakewood, riding ATVs and fishing. Eventually, when the kids are graduated and it’s time to retire, Vassar said she and Ken will dive into some new hobbies.
For now, she is going to keep doing what she enjoys most – working with Ripples of Hope.
“It’s just nice to see all of the hands at work that make this thing go,” Vassar said. “Everybody that helps out Ripples is all together.”