The Value in Love
Kay deeply cares about the people she works with and serves. She’ll tell the story of Wendy and Whiskers, who walked from Lakeland Regional to Harvey’s parking lot to let her know there were people on Memorial who are in worse shape than the Combee folks and needed help. She’ll tell the story of her “lovebirds” Deb and Sparky who are getting married on Valentine’s Day.
However, her favorite story to tell is about a sit down dinner Kay and a group of volunteers put together. The entire community she had grown so close to before and after Hurricane Irma was invited, and they were encouraged to bring their friends.
“When they came, there was a different tilt of their chin. Such pride! They set up the tables, they showed their friends how to get food, introduced us like we were family,” Kay said.
The dinner wasn’t anything fancy—they were sitting around decorated tables in the Dollar Tree parking lot, listening to people tell stories and getting to know one another. Sitting there, Kay knew she was doing what she was meant to do. She was taking the time to get to know people that many would walk past. She was letting them know that they weren’t invisible, that they were valued and loved, and that of course, she was going to keep on coming back to them.
“It was the knowing that they were loved and valued and seeing just the way their shoulders were raised, their heads held high. The way they greeted people like they belonged,” she said with tears in her eyes. “To know that God had used us to sit there and love them. To take that time.”
Making the Impossible Possible
There’s a reason that Kay makes it her priority to continually show up for people that have the cards stacked against them. Years ago, she was in their exact position. She was a 9th grade drop-out, a single mom, homeless several times, sleeping on friends’ couches, and abused. She said after she began attending church again, she felt God tell her it was time to move on to something better. She found a way to work two jobs, raise a child and go back to school to become a teacher – something she never thought was possible.
Kay reads the poem “Listen to the Mustn’ts” by Shel Silverstein to her students and kids as inspiration. She said it has helped her accomplish her goals and continues to motivate her today.
Listen to the MUSTN’TS, child,
Listen to the DON’TS
Listen to the SHOULDN’TS
The IMPOSSIBLES, the WONT’S
Listen to the NEVER HAVES
Then listen close to me-
Anything can happen, child,
ANYTHING can be
“That’s our marching orders,” she said of the poem.
This attitude of always aiming to turn an impossible situation into a manageable one, one that ends in success and not defeat, is something she tries to share with everyone she meets.
“Anything can happen because of God,” she said. “God took every single one of my circumstances and used them as building blocks – molding and shaping me. Every single step of the way, I can come alongside the people who are out there and say ‘I’ve been here. I have walked the roads that you’re walking just on the other side of town. There is hope. You can be something else. You don’t have to stay here.’”
Future of Lakeland
Kay dreams of opening up a resource center right in the middle of her outreach area, which she says will help so many. She hopes more people will come together and do something to aid the homeless population in the city.
For Kay, collaboration is key, and she thinks the biggest way our city can make an impact in the lives of the underserved is by working alongside organizations that are already in place, like Combee Connection, Lighthouse Ministries, and Gospel Inc.. Her philosophy is everyone can do a little bit.
Above all, Kay’s drive comes from wanting everyone, no matter their circumstance, to feel like they belong and that they have something to give to the world, their community, or even just their friends and family.
“Our goal is to speak value into them. To love them, look at them and see them for who they are. That’s the biggest thing, and the most important thing to them,” Kay said. “It’s become a mighty move of God out there, and their chains are being broken. The light is beginning to shine. They’re just wanting to know they’re seen, valued and loved.”
Kay Kasser loves Lakeland and all the people in it. Whether she’s teaching people how to be healthy and cook fulfilling, flavorful meals or feeding people who might have otherwise gone hungry, she feels the generosity of our community is reciprocated.
“When you see somebody on the street, it’s not a handshake – it’s a hug,” Kay said. “They love each other, and they support each other. They sincerely look into your eyes and want to know how you are.”
We feel honored that a CityMaker like Kay lives amongst us, working tirelessly to make our city one that will extend a helping hand to anyone in need. With people like Kay leading the charge, guided by compassion, generosity, and community concern, the positive changes we all wish to see in our community can become a reality.
Just like Kay says, “We can make it happen if we all work together!”