Nonprofit group hooping up some happiness

Tampa Bay Times,
BY LENORA LAKE, Special Correspondent
Published: February 18, 2015

YBOR CITY — Yards of PVC irrigation tubing and colored electrical tape are bringing joy to children not only in Tampa, but also around the world.

Hoola for Happiness, a nonprofit organization based in Ybor City and with staff in India and Brazil, focuses on spreading joy and God’s love through hula hooping with the giant rings, which are collapsible for travel.

The organization, which will be 4 years old in July, recently held its monthly workshop to create the hoops. Volunteers join the two staff members to cut the tubing, splice it together using connectors and wrap the hoop in colorful electrical tape.

Since the organization began, 3,700 hoops have been created and distributed in 52 countries, said founder Carissa Caricato, 28. Some are distributed by Hoola for Happiness during mission outreach trips while others are given to other groups making mission trips abroad or working with local schoolchildren in incentive programs.

A dancer, Caricato begun using the hoops herself for fitness in 2009; in 2010, she took some hoops with her on a mission trip to Haiti and “people just loved them. They were an incredible way to interact.”

Upon her return, “I started dreaming about taking hoops and sharing God’s love all over the world,” she said.

She is assisted locally by Casey McKinney, 23, and volunteers, including Jill Griffith, 59. The retiree, who moved here recently from Atlanta, sat on the floor of the organization’s space in the Underground, a church building in Ybor City, cutting tubing.

“When I heard her story, I knew this was important,” Griffith said.

Caricato said the hoops are wrapped in yellow, black, red and green tape. The yellow is for creation; the black for the darkness, the red for God’s love and the green for one’s own purpose.

“We can use the colors to help tell a story of one’s life,” Caricato said.

While the hoops are used for mission outreach, a lot of the work is secular, too, she said. Weekly free hooping sessions, open to the public, are held from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Wednesdays at Curtis Hixon Park. They also participate at school fitness days and other activities.

A team of workers can make about 50 hoops in a four-hour workshop, which are held monthly, and additional volunteers are needed, Caricato said.

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