Interview with a Hula Hooping Missionary

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Image Credit: Sera Manubens

Here is a glimpse into the Personality Profile assignment I did for our COMM class this semester. I have the great privilege of working with one of my friends, who is making a difference around the world by spreading joy through hula hoops!

The Hula Hooping Missionary

Hoola Hoops, the beloved child’s toy, are coming back. They’ve quickly become a new trend in the exercise world, but on the other side of the world, in places like Kenya and Brazil, they are making an appearance thanks in part to one young woman who is trying to change the world, one hula hoop at a time.

Carissa Caricato, 25, of Tampa, calls herself the first “hula hooping missionary,” and her goal is to spread joy through the distribution of these fun toys. Caricato founded Hoola for Happiness, a non-profit organization that seeks to share the love of God and spread joy to the world, one hoop at a time, one life at a time.

Caricato started Hoola for Happiness after going on a missions trip to Haiti in 2010. The idea came after she had just begun taking hula hoping lessons, per a friend’s suggestion. A few months later, she was back in Haiti, this time taking three travel sized hula hoops with her. She was marveled by the way this simple toy brought so much joy to the children she was with, many of which had never seen a hula hoop before.

Months later, while at a women’s conference in Dallas, she began to put together her love for hula hooping and missions. This birthed the idea of Hoops for Haiti, and then later expanded to the world, calling it Hoola for Happiness. The idea was simple, taking hula hoops to spread joy and use this as a conduit to share the gospel.

“At the conference they were asking us what makes you excited? What brings you joy? And I realized that hula hooping and sharing God’s love are what I am passionate about,” said Caricato.

In just over a year and a half, Hoola for Happiness has gone from just a dream to a non-profit  501c3 organization. With the help of a few friends, Caricato and her team have taken the hoops beyond just Haiti. She has been spotted hula hooping in many places, from airports in Omaha to parks in London and schools in Kenya. To date, hula hoops have been distributed to over thirteen countries including India, Cambodia, Brazil and Uganda.

“My goal at first was to tell [the] vision to one person a day. And through this I got the logo created, flyers done and we had a launch party in December 2010. I thought it would just be a charitable initiative… I never imaged a non profit,” Caricato explained.

The message of Hoola for Happiness is simple: spread joy. Working with kids and adults in other countries, the hula hoop is used to spread the joy of hooping and from this, Caricato is able to share where her joy comes from, and that being the love of God.

“[It is] The joy of having a walk with God and knowing he makes all things work for good. That’s still my purpose, without the hoops. I get to love them, laugh with them, spread joy and build relationships all through the hoop,” she said.

Coming from a background in Public Relations, building relationships is important to Caricato, not only with the people she meets overseas, but also the local community. She is passionate about seeing more people go on missions trips. Next year, she hopes to have Hoola for Happiness represented in over 50 countries.

“My heart is sharing the love of God with the world and showing it with as many people as possible. I want to lead joy trips and take people all over the world and see their lives changed and the way they live their lives.”

Caricato and her team have gone into many areas where they don’t speak the language.

“When we arrive, there is always an awkward silence and hundreds of people staring at us. In Uganda this past June, I found myself standing in front of 300 children at a medical facility. As I took the hoops out and began to dance and sing, the mood over the entire place changed as they saw what fun I was having. It was such a joyful time.”

Unsure of what is next, Caricato continues to pursue her dream of Hoola for Happiness. She quit her job at a non-profit organization in Tampa to devote all of her time to this new passion God has given her. She now spends her days meeting new contacts, traveling and speaking at conferences and hula hooping wherever she goes. She recently moved out of her house, sold many of her possessions and is living with friends, during the times she is in Tampa.

“God showed me this is where he wants me to do ministry, and opened the door. I left my job on a leap of faith and I’ve been doing this eleven months now full time,” she says.

Caricato’s vision is continuing to expand. Recently, she and volunteers have been making their own hoops, which they are calling “wordless hoops.”

“The hoops are made out of piping and different colored tape. The colors white, gold, black, red and green symbolize the Gospel story, which we have been using to spread the Gospel.”

Caricato recently returned from taking 30 wordless hoops to Haiti, where she and another volunteer visited orphanages, schools and organizations, leaving the hoops behind a few at a time. She’s looking into beginning manufacturing the hoops in Haiti, to provide jobs to locals.

“What’s Next? I’m heading to India later this month and then we’ll see what happens. I’m praying about leading a small team throughout Southeast Asia and filming a joy documentary over the summer.”

“This has changed everything,” she says. “God has changed my heart and I have grown so much, and he has rescued me from so much. That’s what life is worth living for, glorifying him and spreading his goodness to the ends of the earth. Hoola hooping may be part of it for awhile, but it’s one day at a time.”

For more information, check out the Hoola for Happiness website.

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