Our Towns: Hubbard ‘Coats’ Its Children with Pride

HUBBARD, Ohio – Throughout the football season last autumn, Mary Mathews-Bebech, a teacher at Hubbard High School, saw the same blue and white jacket over and over and over again. All had the Hubbard Eagles logo on the chest and all were worn by some of the youngest children in the schools.

And sometimes, she says, they would run up to her to show off their jackets. That was because she had helped hand out the coats a month earlier as part of the Kommunity 4 Kids effort in Hubbard elementary schools.

Kommunity 4 Kids, started three years ago by the Kilar family, furnishes a jacket – for free – to every first-grader in the city and Hubbard Township. Over that period, more than 500 coats – each emblazoned with the Hubbard Eagles logo, the St. Patrick School logo or a “Hubbard” word mark for children schooled at home – have been given out.

Each fall, adults, who include city officeholders, policemen, firemen, clergy and businessmen, hand out the coats. The program isn’t about the coats, says the secretary of Kommunity 4 Kids, Susan Kilar. It’s about developing and strengthening bonds between the children and authority figures in the community.

“We want kids to say, ‘I know that police officer,’ or ‘I saw the mayor at the store.’ That can make a difference in their life,” says Bill Kilar, owner of Kilar Fabrication, and Susan’s husband.

Susan Kilar continues, “Maybe we keep someone from trying drugs. Maybe we get someone to ask their parents to take them to church. Maybe we do something good for these kids. And that’s the whole idea.”

Within the school system, Hubbard superintendent Raymond Soloman is seeing the positive reaction Kilar was hoping for. The pupils have a sense of pride when they wear their jackets, he says.

“There’s a positive behavior because they were given that coat by a figure in the community,” he says. “They know that and they’re proud of that.”

And because the jackets are free, no one is left out, adds Hubbard Elementary principal Shawn Marcello. Even first-graders who enroll after the coats are handed out in early October get one of the extra jackets.

What’s also important, the Kilars say, is that businesses thoroughly supported Kommunity 4 Kids. Places such as The New Manhattan have hosted fundraisers and Afterburner FX has printed and helped distribute the coats. At least a dozen companies, all within Hubbard, have made financial contributions to help pay for it all.

It could be said that Kommunity 4 Kids is emblematic of the community support throughout Hubbard. In the schools, Soloman, Mathews-Bebech and Marcello say, parents are often more than willing to donate and help in any way they can.

At the beginning of the school year, a parent donated 50 backpacks filled with school supplies, Marcello says. Another parent, Mathews-Bebech relates, paid for an eye exam and glasses for a student after a teacher mentioned the need in passing. And for Soloman, what stands out most is that voters passed a bond levy a few years ago to rebuild the Hubbard school campus when it was first placed on the ballot.

“Our strong community support leads to successful schools, which leads back to a strong community,” Marcello says. “The community wants to see our kids excel and we as a district want to give back to the community by making sure we’re performing.”

In Hubbard, community service starts early. Almost every student group within the schools has a service project. If a high school student hasn’t volunteered, Mathews-Bebech says, then he won’t be considered for the National Honor Society. Those years instill a sense of community early on, the principal adds.

“It’s not just one thing that they see. Between kindergarten and 12th grade, they see all the ways the community supports them,” he says. “When you see so much for so long, it sticks with you.”

In 2010, Ricky and Mackenzie Pasco started Ricky-Mack Giving Back, a fundraiser for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, after the organization granted their wishes. Since then, the two have helped to raise more than $50,000 for other children in the area.

“That’s the kind of thing that gets around to other people in the community,” says Mayor John Darko. “We’re all very proud of our community. It’s an incredible thing here.”

Last year, the elementary school raised $11,000 for leukemia and lymphoma patients through the Pennies for Patients campaign.

If a high school student can’t afford to take the ACT, the school helps cover the costs.

Every year, Braydich Dental donates dental services to students, Mathews-Bebech adds, and parents have bought more than one yearbook and given the extras to students who couldn’t afford one.

“That’s not an essential thing, which is what makes it so wonderful,” she says. “If we have kids that need help, our job is to take care of them. And if we can’t, we know there are people who will help pay for it. People come together.”

Community support isn’t just for children in Hubbard, either. For decades, the Rotary Club of Hubbard has provided a van for the city to transport seniors, buying a new van every three or four years.

The van service began well before Chad McConnell, president of the Hubbard Rotary, was involved, but its importance hasn’t changed, he says. Some of the city’s aging population, especially those living on their own and without family nearby, often miss out on social interaction.

“We [the Rotary Club] knew there were shut-ins and those without transportation,” he says. “There was a need.”

Mayor Darko adds that the staff who work for the van service, both dispatchers and drivers, are all volunteers.

“We use it to pick them and take them to doctor’s appointments, hair appointments, the grocery store or whatever they want to do,” he says. “It’s completely run by volunteers.”

McConnell also serves as vice president and treasurer of Kommunity 4 Kids and president of the Hubbard Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Rotary has prepared food boxes during the holiday season and donated to food pantries in the area, while the chamber of commerce has long hosted Hubbard Fun Day and organized Q&A sessions for residents to talk with local politicians.

For many in Hubbard, the sense of charity and community in the city and township is part of what makes Hubbard so attractive. While not a native of the city, Susan Kilar has noticed the spirit of the community and seen what residents are willing to do when called upon.

“This is an amazing community. People don’t always understand it. I didn’t when we first got married,” she says. “The people, both in the city and the township, are amazing and support their community.”

Adds her husband, “I’m proud of this community and I want to do whatever I can for it.”

In the schools, Soloman, Marcello and Mathews-Bebech say that parents are always willing to contribute to a broad array of needs.

“It sounds corny, but it’s a small town with a big heart,” says Mathews-Bebech. “People are connected so much to the point where if principal Marcello mentions something to a parent or secretary, that will get passed on and people will gladly help.”

Much as he does for Hubbard, McConnell doesn’t live in the city or township. But later this year, he’ll move to the city once he completes building his house. The sense of community and neighbors helping each other is one the biggest factors in his move, he says.

“It certainly makes you feel great. That’s what makes me want to be a part of Hubbard,” he says. “I hope that Hubbard continues to be a charitable community.”

When he took office, Darko says, he became far more aware of all that was going on in his city, especially with the organizations and what they work to accomplish.

“I’m so proud of what our town does for each other. We’ve got so many great groups and service organizations, from our Hubbard Christians in Action to our VFW,” the mayor says. “That’s what makes Hubbard Hubbard.”

Pictured: First-graders at Hubbard Elementary School are always excited when they get their Hubbard Eagles jacket from adults in the community, says principal Shawn Marcello.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.