by Carol Cowdrey
Special to The Leaven
OVERLAND PARK — It began with a simple invitation to attend a parish initiative party for a Catholic Charities event.
Now, five years later, Church of the Ascension parishioners Mike and Jo Kuckelman are serving as presidents of the 46th annual Snow Ball gala benefiting the Catholic Charities Foundation of Northeast Kansas. The event will be held Jan. 18 at the Overland Park Convention Center.
“During the parish party, we had an opportunity to learn more about the programs and services offered by Catholic Charities. We really appreciated how they help anyone in need,” said Jo.
That parish party not only led them to attend their first Snow Ball gala, but it inspired the Kuckelmans to get involved in other ways with the organization. One of the areas where they have experienced the greatest impact is in Mike’s hometown of Atchison.
Although Mike and Jo live in Olathe, Atchison continues to hold a special place in their hearts. Mike’s family remains active in St. Benedict Parish, as well as the Atchison community, and are well-known for running the city’s popular local restaurant, Jerry’s Again.
“As I was growing up, the monks at St. Benedict’s Abbey really impacted my life and desire to serve,” explained Mike. “They encouraged me to find roles where I could give back to the community.”
Initially, Catholic Charities served Atchison through its Mobile Resource Bus. Recognizing the growing need for assistance, the Kuckelmans took steps to bring Catholic Charities to Atchison permanently.
“We wanted to bring more consistent services to the Atchison community by helping provide a permanent office, instead of relying on the traveling bus for assistance,” said Mike.
Thanks to their generous support, Catholic Charities now operates a Family Support Center in downtown Atchison. In addition to providing food, clothing and direct financial assistance, a case manager works with individuals and families to help them move toward self-sustainability through skills training, financial education and employment.
“Through our Family Support Centers, we graciously attempt to mirror God’s mercy as we provide help to individuals in reoccurring need,” explained Lauren Solidum, Catholic Charities’ president and CEO.
“We promote the sanctity of life,” she continued, “and we battle the root causes of poverty by providing the tools to fish for oneself.”
In the months leading up to the Snow Ball, a record number of parish initiative parties was held to increase support and build awareness about the event’s impact on those served by Catholic Charities. Also, young professionals had the opportunity to support the gala and engage with the organization at the annual Snow Flake happy hour.
Ninety-one cents of every dollar raised by Snow Ball supports the more than 20 innovative programs and solutions offered by Catholic Charities throughout 21 counties. “The Kansas Loan Pool Project (KLPP), which eliminates predatory lending, is a favorite of mine,” said Mike. “Seeing people go from a payday loan that enslaves them, to a loan that is affordable and builds credit, is rewarding.”
Jo is fond of the New Roots for Refugees farming program because it teaches participants how to build and successfully operate a small business. She is also thankful for Catholic Community Hospice, a ministry of Catholic Charities that provided compassionate end-of-life care to her father, Marlin Kerby, a World War II veteran and prisoner of war.
“All of the programs are essential,” said Jo. “It’s our love of Catholic Charities and the opportunity to advance its mission that led us to say yes when asked to be this year’s Snow Ball presidents.”
Their yearlong journey as event presidents will end with a night of celebration.
“It’s been a wonderful experience to meet so many people who help throughout all of the parishes,” said Jo. “We have enjoyed working with the amazing staff and hardworking volunteers working behind the scenes to make the event the success that it is.”
It’s Catholic Charities’ commitment to moving people into more hopeful situations that keeps the Kuckelmans — and other donors — supporting the organization’s major fundraiser.
“It’s a mission that we can all get behind,” said Mike. “While they will help anyone out of a crisis, Catholic Charities also helps the person avoid a future crisis.
“It is truly a hand-up, rather than just a hand-out, mentality at Catholic Charities.”