Sacrificing time to serve your community can be challenging, but if you asked Kathi Monroe, the Herald’s 2017 Person of the Year, finding time to help others can become a “good addiction.”
“When I see something that I can help with,” Monroe said, “I just kind of like to do it. You hear stories from other people who are involved and I think to myself, ‘I can do that,’ and that’s kind of what happens.”
A resident of Malverne for 13 years, Monroe, 58, has belonged to the Malverne Civic Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club for nearly a decade. When she and her two daughters moved to Malverne from Mineola in 2004, she never imagined getting so deeply involved in her new community.
“Really never do I know what I’m stepping into,” she said jokingly, “but I’ve always been a joiner and I don’t like to be bored.”
Monroe saw the local groups as an opportunity to familiarize herself with Malverne. “I’ve met such wonderful people, and I’ve developed a lot of friendships in the village because of these organizations,” she said.
What started out as a way to meet new people turned into years of service. This spring she began volunteering for the St. Vincent de Paul Society at Our Lady of Lourdes Church, helping to organize its food pantry. For the holidays, Monroe helped to deliver Christmas presents to parish children. “Just to see the joy on their faces and knowing that we’re able to make a difference makes it all worthwhile,” she said.
After the death last month of Malverne resident Denis O’Brien, who coordinated many village events, including the annual Breakfast with Santa at American Legion Post 44, the village sought a resident to volunteer. “She was the first person to volunteer,” Malverne Civic Association Trustee Toni Sussman said of Monroe. “She does everything with love, generosity and gusto. There aren’t enough great words to describe Kathi Monroe.”
As a Rotary member, she helped raise money and gather donations for victims of Hurricane Harvey in Texas. The club recently sent its donations to a Rotary in Houston.
Monroe also recently began volunteering at the Malverne Volunteer Ambulance Corps. “It amazing to see that even though she’s involved in so many different organizations, she always brings the energy and enthusiasm,” said Rotary member Vinny O’Brien. “She’s a delightful and inspirational person. Malverne’s blessed to have her.”
An acupuncturist for 15 years, Monroe is a sole practitioner at Harmony Acupuncture, on Hempstead Avenue in Malverne, having earned a master’s in oriental medicine at the New York College of Health Professions in 2003. Through her work, she said, she has developed close relationships with her patients, and that has gone hand in hand with her volunteerism. “I don’t have a high-volume practice by design,” she said. “I like to be able to take time with my patients, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve been able to do as many thing as I do.
“I have definitely bitten off more than I can chew at times,” she added, “but there just always seems to be enough time to get everything done somehow. I do get tired, like everybody else, but I get a lot from it.”
“Whenever something’s important to you, no matter how busy you are, you make it your priority,” JoAnne Lewis, treasurer of the civic association, said of Monroe’s devotion to the village. “And she does just that.”
Monroe offers free and half-price acupuncture work to veterans to help them reduce stress. “It’s so little compared to what they’ve given us,” Monroe said, “but it’s what I have to offer. It’s something that just means a lot to me. That’s what I do to give back.”
Whether she’s helping to coordinate the chamber’s annual wine event, the holiday tree lighting or the annual Groundhog Day celebration, Monroe always seems to find the inspiration to do more. She helped kick off new events this year including the village’s Art Walk, which featured artwork from more than 80 artists, and the Teal Pumpkin Project, on Halloween.
“My mind never stops,” she said. “There’s always ideas running through my mind.”
Suzanne Parra, president of the civic association, said that as a result of Monroe’s involvement with varied village organizations, she has become something of a liaison among them. “We’re such a small village that there are things that overlap, and we want to make sure that we all work together,” Parra said. “Kathi [has] always been a big part of that, and she helps to keep things running.”
Monroe has also volunteered at the Malverne Historical Society, where groups like the Chamber of Commerce have held fundraisers. Robert Powers, a former society president and village historian, said her contributions have set an example that all residents can follow. “[She] shows us that no matter what we have in life, there’s always more to give,” Powers said. “She ignites a spark in all of us.”
Sussman added that Monroe is not only a woman who wears many hats in the village, but is also a talented cook. She said that Monroe has hosted her own German Oktoberfest for her friends, featuring German dishes like potato pancakes, sauerbraten and schnitzel.
“I don’t know where she finds the time to do everything she does,” Sussman said. “Everything she does, she does it to completion, she does it with a great joy in her heart and a love for her community.”
The volunteers who work behind the scenes in Malverne, Monroe said, are the people who make it a special place. She also said that the simple quality of gratitude plays a huge role in shaping a community.
“People who aren’t grateful don’t feel the need to give back,” she said. “I’ve been very, very blessed in my life, and I like to pay it forward. Caring about other people, loving where we are and wanting to maintain that … I think those are things that drive the people here to do what they do.”