The best way to build relationships while bringing residents of all ages together is through community events, according to Malvernite Hayley Kelch. A member of Maurice W. Downing’s PTA for the past four years, Kelch said the group accomplishes just that.
“I don’t know of many other organizations that can get these different communities to come together for a unifying purpose,” said Kelch, 38. “Once you start organizing these events and seeing how they benefit the kids, then it becomes a labor of love.”
For Kelch’s dedication to coordinating and hosting events for the youth in her community, the Herald is proud to name her its 2019 Person of the Year.
A Malvernite for most of her life, Kelch, a practicing attorney, said that when she arrived at Downing in 2017, she believed that the PTA was the best way to meet new families in the school community. The school’s welcoming, inclusive environment, she explained, was something she wanted to spread. As far as Kelch is concerned, building a strong community means being involved.
“The more people who are involved, the better,” she said. “Whether it’s for purposes of socializing or progressing the school in terms of its policies . . . the [PTA] leadership wants to make sure that all voices are heard, and that everyone is included.”
Her involvement began in 2010, when she joined Mothers of Malverne, a group that has helped connect mothers in the village for more than 40 years. (Hayley and her husband, Tim, have two daughters, Ella and Millie.) She coordinated some of the group’s events, such as the community walk and yard sale.
“She’s such a go-getter, and she never backs down from a challenge,” said Elicia Corbett, a past president of MOM, who has known Kelch for eight years. “Malverne is really lucky that we have so many people that are active, but that’s the only way to get things done. Hayley is truly a leader of the people.”
Kelch, who was Downing’s PTA co-president from 2017 to 2019, has been instrumental in leading the group’s annual Downing Night Out. The event, which started almost 20 years ago, is a fundraiser at which community members enjoy an evening of dinner, dancing and raffles to support events at the school throughout the year, including Family Movie Night Under the Stars, Pumpkin Patch, Reindeer Games and Super Family Fun Night, among others. The group had its most successful campaign in 2018, raising more than $10,000.
“She brings a lot of enthusiasm, she’s motivated and she’s been a wonderful addition to the district as well as the Downing team,” former Student Council adviser Marguerite Robles said of Kelch. “It’s hard to describe, but she’s got that special flair.”
Corbett also noted Kelch’s volunteer efforts as a leader of groups such as Girl Scout Troops 2237 and 2562. “It’s another outlet that she’s able to use to bridge the gap between community groups,” Corbett said. “But that’s the kind of volunteer you need in a small village like this.”
Downing PTA member Claudia Miletic, who met Kelch at Mothers of Malverne in 2010, said that her willingness to volunteer for a position such as PTA president, and her ability to get the ball rolling on initiatives, is what makes her successful.
“She always puts her best foot forward,” Miletic said. “Whenever she has something to say, whether it’s good or bad, she does it in such a way that it’s well received and understood.”
Kelch was instrumental in conceptualizing Downing’s state-of-the-art outdoor garden classroom. In the past, the garden has been used mostly by the school’s garden club, but she felt that others could benefit as well. So Kelch, along with a few other PTA parents, developed an idea for an outdoor classroom after seeing a similar one during a field trip to Tanglewood Preserve in Rockville Centre.
“Their entire curriculum is based on outdoor learning,” Kelch said, so we put our heads together and we thought about all the different ways we could use that space.”
She pitched the idea to district officials and Superintendent Dr. James Hunderfund, and they approved the project last year. “We realized that the garden is an addition to the school budget that’s not necessarily considered to be a necessity,” Kelch said, “but the district realizes how hard we work and how hard we fundraise to support projects like this.”
PTA members hope to install fixtures, furniture and equipment that will transform the school garden into a fully equipped, all-season outdoor classroom that will accommodate numerous activities, such as science, exploration, story time, art and club events. The outdoor garden should be completed next year.
“That’s a perfect example of somebody who’s thinking outside of the box,” Robles said. “She saw what the kids could benefit from and then found a way, with the limited space we have, to encourage that kind of learning opportunity.”
Robles and Miletic both noted that Kelch’s devotion to the community, while working full time as an attorney, speaks volumes about what volunteerism means to her. A lawyer for 13 years, Kelch said that balancing her career and the groups she belongs to isn’t always easy, but having more responsibilities keeps her organized.
“I just think there’s no other way to do it,” she said. “The volunteering sort of becomes recreational enjoyment, because that’s just what I love to do.”
Downing first-grade teacher Amanda Correia said that Kelch’s reliability and helpfulness in school and community activities make her special. “She’s always there when you need her, but more importantly, she encourages everyone to get involved,” Correia said. “She’s a good liaison between community, the schools, and our students and teachers.”
Miletic said that Kelch has also handled tough situations with grace. When a resident alleged that Downing’s school grounds were in poor condition at a Board of Education meeting last year, Miletic said, Kelch was one of the first district members to dispel those rumors.
“She’s always been very good at listening to both the sides and finding the solution,” Miletic said. “She’s not one to hold back what she feels and what she thinks.”
Kelch said that in Malverne, while many of the same people volunteer, the entire community is always supportive. “What I’m always amazed at is when I put a call out for volunteers for any event, we get a great response,” she said. “I’m always impressed with the level of commitment from all the members and all of the families.”
“I’m just really thankful that I found this organization,” she added. “It’s been a bright light in my life.”