Giving from the heart

Kurt Voss gets a warm feeling every time he financially supports the Cassandra Voss Center. His reaction is understandable given that the facility named for his late daughter has become nationally respected as a home for innovative programming on issues including gender, sexuality, identity, justice, race and politics.
Voss recently made a multi-year commitment to support the center’s Olive Branch Initiative – a program to promote understanding and bridge-building in many forms. It’s an initiative he sees as especially important in today’s divisive landscape.
“What I’m seeing happening in society today incented me to work with the team at the Cassandra Voss Center and conceive of the Olive Branch Initiative,” Voss explains. “We’re teaching people to have dialogue across their differences, and I’m thrilled at the possibility of impacting that positively.”
The Olive Branch Initiative also honors the relationship Voss had with his daughter, who was on track to be the first St. Norbert student to complete an individualized major in women’s and gender studies when she died as a result of a traffic accident in 2007 at the age of 21. The conversations they enjoyed while often approaching issues from differing perspectives were rewarding and enlightening for both.
“It may not be that unusual when a parent doesn’t necessarily agree with their 18- to 21-year-old child, but maybe it was something I took for granted at the time,” Voss says. “Now I very much cherish the memories of the debates and conversations we had across our differences.”
Bridget Burke Ravizza (Theology and Religious Studies) developed the Olive Branch Initiative concept five years ago and today serves as its coordinator. One of its first undertakings has been to train faculty cohorts on ways they can integrate the spirit and practice of dialogue across difference into their courses.
“We want to grow a base of faculty who can do this powerful work in the classroom,” explains Billy Korinko, director of the Cassandra Voss Center. “Our goal is to make this type of dialogue as integrated in the curriculum as possible, because that is where we can reach the most hearts and minds. Every division has been represented over the three years of these faculty cohorts, which reflects the deep well of buy-in for the Cassandra Voss Center that is spread nicely across the institution.”
A third cohort of faculty members will be participating later this year. Voss’ support will also enable the expansion of the initiative to include other platforms for promoting understanding and bringing people together.
Adding to a legacy of support
The college’s advancement team has helped Voss pursue multiple philanthropic avenues to reflect his passions. He supplied a major gift that was needed to remodel the historic church at the corner of Grant and Third streets into the Cassandra Voss Center in 2013, and his continuing support today makes it possible for the center to offer other innovative programs in addition to the Olive Branch Initiative.
Voss acknowledges that his support of these initiatives is at once joyful and poignant.
“It makes my heart feel good because it’s one of the things that reminds me of my daughter,” he says. “I choose to focus on the silver linings. My faith tells me that things happen for a reason and God is in control. You can’t only have faith when something happens that you understand and agree with. God has been very loyal to me and answered my prayers, and he has provided silver linings for me.”
St. Norbert helps donors Support What Matters
The college’s current Support What Matters campaign has four primary area of focus, two of which are directly supported by gifts like Voss’. One is to deliver a contemporary student experience through high-impact practices both inside and outside the classroom, and the Olive Branch Initiative is emblematic of that. Another is to amplify the college’s mission as a Norbertine, Catholic liberal arts institution: The initiative’s embrace of ideals including dialogue, mutual esteem, justice and reconciliation is fully aligned with this goal, as well.
If you are interested in lending your support to the campaign, the advancement team can simplify the giving process for you – whether, like Kurt Voss, you have a specific goal in mind, or you instead desire to contribute to the campaign generally.
Explore the Support What Matters website to learn more about the campaign and options for contributing to this effort.

It is your opportunity to Support What Matters