Carrying Out the Thomas More Mission Overseas

Carrying Out the Thomas More Mission Overseas

Development directors at Thomas More often have the pleasure of connecting with alumni and hearing stories about how they are living out the University’s mission post-graduation. These alumni speak of the experiences they have as they examine the meaning of life, find their place in the world, and explore their responsibility to others. Sometimes these visits take advancement officers beyond U.S. borders. That was the case when Kyle Isaack, associate director of development, went to London to arranged to meet with alumnus Andy Kulina ’87.

Andy was a part of the team that launched the famous Kroger Plus Card.  That success lead to an opportunity to move to the UK in 1998 where he was a pioneer in helping to launch loyalty programs across Europe.  “It was such an honor to meet with Andy in London,” says Isaack. “He has such a passion for Thomas More University and when I reached out to him about getting together while I was in town there was no hesitation.” The two connected at one of Andy’s favorite London spots to talk about memories he had from his time at Thomas More and where life has taken him since. “What a special day it was,” recalls Isaack. “Andy and his family are truly living out the mission of Thomas More University.”

Homes for Ukraine

It was through this meeting that Andy mentioned he and his family had opened their home to a Ukrainian family seeking refuge from the conflict with Russia. The family had an empty studio apartment above their garage and saw an excellent opportunity to help those in need when they heard about the U.K. initiative, Homes for Ukraine. Homes for Ukraine is a British government program started in 2022, which allows households to provide accommodation for Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion. “The U.K. made it super simple to get paired with a family,” Andy recalls. A connection from their daughter’s school led to the Kulina’s being paired with a Ukrainian family whose relatives had already relocated to a neighboring village. “We thought, ‘Okay, this must be fate. Let’s do it.’”

The families celebrating Christmas together.

The Ukrainian family of three came from Sumy, the first village that was invaded when the war started. The father suffers from injuries that prevent him from fighting and the young daughter had been plagued with nightmares since the invasion. Thanks to the Kulinas, they were able to make a fresh start in the U.K. The families have since spent time getting to know each other, with the Kulinas ensuring their Ukrainian friends feel at home. “It’s great, we had a barbecue with them this past weekend,” recalls Andy. The father was able to get a job at a local supermarket, while the mother is learning English. The families also have daughters the same age who attend school together. “It worked out really well,” Andy says. The Kulina family have told the Ukrainian family they are welcome to stay with them for as long as is necessary.

To listen or read more about how Andy’s family came to host the Ukrainian family, CLICK HERE.

Raising Awareness: Phelan-McDermid Syndrome

Andy with his daughter Olivia.

The Kulina’s first child, daughter Olivia, 12, was diagnosed with a condition called Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, a very underdiagnosed chromosome deletion. The syndrome causes severe learning difficulties, absence of speech, and slow development with milestones such as walking. “Olivia is a very, very loving child and sometimes has difficulty processing things,” Kulina explains. Olivia is fully mobile but requires constant one-to-one attention.

“We don’t have time to get involved in the normal stuff you get involved in as parents,” he explains, adding that Olivia’s condition is also expensive, requiring extra care and resources. This adds a layer of difficulty to the Kulina’s ability to contribute to philanthropic endeavors. “We don’t have a ton of money to make big donations to things. We also don’t have a ton of time to offer outside of our family day to day needs.” Instead of letting life’s obstacles get in the way, the Kulina’s remain committed to making a difference in the lives of others. Their above-garage studio apartment was once home to au pairs who helped Olivia. When the apartment became empty, they knew it was a resource they could use to help others, ultimately providing shelter to Ukrainian refugees through Homes for Ukraine.

The Kulina’s also do what they can to raise awareness of Phelan-McDermid Syndrome. “Short of finding a billionaire fund research, the best thing we can do to help Olivia and others is to raise awareness of Phelan-McDermid.  If more people are aware of Phelan-McDermid and how it relates to other conditions such as Autism and Parkinson’s Disease, that will help to fuel research.” Andy utilized his background in customer loyalty marketing to spread the word about Phelan McDermid. “For example, we did a big event with King’s College Chapel at the University of Cambridge,” he explains. “We lit it up green as a part of a special day for Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, ‘Shine Green,’ in October (22nd).” During Shine Green, monuments around the world are illuminated. “They had the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Empire State Building; so we added King’s College Chapel to that list because it is the iconic building of Cambridge University,” recalls Kulina. Even better, The King’s College illumination caught the eye of a BBC reporter, and the story was covered by BBC news across radio, TV & the internet. “50 million views later, we know we did our job of raising awareness,” says Andy.

For more information on Phelan-McDermid Syndrome, CLICK HERE.

To listen/read more about Andy’s relocation to the UK and involvement in his daughter Olivia’s condition, CLICK HERE.

The Thomas More Experience

Andy was awarded an athletic scholarship to play tennis at Thomas More. He was also awarded financial aid as a James Graham Brown scholar. He earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science, and two associate degrees in business administration and math. He continued his education through the MBA program at Xavier University. Andy credits the high-quality, Catholic, liberal arts education that he received with opening his mind to the world’s possibilities. “My biggest experience was coming to Thomas More first, moving away from home,” he recalls. “Realizing that the way my family did things wasn’t necessarily the right way or the wrong way, there was just a different way to do things.” He adds that the dynamic of a liberal arts institution, providing ample opportunities to explore different areas of study, “makes you a more well-rounded person.”

The most important lesson Andy has learned in life? “Don’t fall back on ‘I can’t do it’ … I think the important message is, a lot of people say, ‘I don’t have time to do that. I don’t have time to do this.’ There is time for you to do something; what is that something? You might have to dig a little deeper.”

To hear/read more from Andy’s Thomas More experience, CLICK HERE.

Hear/read Andy’s advice for current students, CLICK HERE.

Thomas More Athletics: The Famous – or Infamous – Batting Average

Although Andy was recruited to played tennis for Thomas More, he also had the opportunity to play baseball for one season. During that year, the team lost several players, prompting then head coach Jim Connor to recruit players from other athletic teams. Kulina jumped at the chance, after all, becoming a pro baseball player was his dream. That year also happened to be future major league baseball standout David Justice’s final year to play for Thomas More. “I’m not that good at baseball, but I got two hits in five at bats, so my final season batting average was .400. Dave Justice’s was .380,” Kulina recalls with a laugh. “At the end of the season, they printed off the stat sheet, and I was chasing him around after the draft to get him to sign it to prove that I had a higher batting average than Dave Justice!” Andy says he and Justice aren’t in frequent contact, but they do know of each other. “I saw him at the Rockies, when he was with the Braves, and one of my friends shouted, ‘Hey, this guy says he had a higher batting average than you,’ and Justice shouted back from the dugout, ‘He only batted five times!’ Justice told me, ‘You’re going to tell that story the rest of your life,’ and I have.”

To listen/read about Andy’s experience as David Justice’s teammate, CLICK HERE.