Kyle Kelly’s Life Isn’t That Different from “Parks & Rec”

When you work for the Department of Parks and Recreation, everyone has the same question: Is it like Parks and Rec?

“I’m in the borough office, which is the main hub for all Manhattan parks,” says Kyle Kelly. Kelly, 26, serves as a liaison for people who want to be involved in their local parks. “So, this office is pretty much just like what you see on the show. Same type of people. It’s all over the place.” 

Indeed, sometimes civilians decide to take parks improvements into their own hands, and chaos ensues. “Someone may say they need the basketball courts repainted, and we may say, wait a couple days so we can repaint the court for you—we have a special kind of paint that we use for that. Then they decide to get a bucket of paint and go over to repaint the court themselves,” Kelly says. “Give it a second. Give us some time to do things right!” Talking about rogue park helpers is the closest he comes to complaining during our time together.

Kelly compares himself to Chris Pratt’s character on Parks and Rec, the eternally well-meaning Andy. In the fall, Kelly will start helping community groups plant bulbs, and in the spring he’ll help them take care of the resulting flowers, but summer is actually a pretty laid-back time for him. Laid-back is a relative term, however: Kelly is also a full-time student at Mercy College, pursuing an MBA focusing on management and operations, and he also works with a mentoring program called Our Brothers Guardian, started by his own mentor, whom he met in church when he was 16.

“He was a cool guy, and he was very transparent with me. He was having a Super Bowl party in Queens, and he went to my mother and asked if I could come. Then from there it kind of just grew. He showed me how to drive a car, taught me how to fish, got me jobs and introduced me to people that I would probably never have met on my own time, taught me about financial literacy and finances and entrepreneurship.”

Kelly grew up with a strong appreciation for his mentor’s intervention, and a desire to pay it forward. When Our Brothers Guardian needed a program director, he jumped at the opportunity, and soon became a head program director, now working mostly on backend-stuff, like paperwork and social media.

Many of the young people who come to Our Brothers Guardian don’t readily open up to him, so Kelly tries to approach them like his mentor approached him when he was 16: He’s honest and forthcoming about his own story, to create a judgment-free zone where they feel comfortable. Often he’s able to find something that piques their interest. “That’s when you get the smile, then you get the words, and then you get to learn more about the kid,” Kelly says.

Once a boy came to an “open gym” hosted by Our Brothers Guardian. He didn’t really attend school and he’d had some legal trouble, but he participated in all the drills and listened well. “He understood our principles and what we stood for, and he kind of just started opening up,” Kelly recalls. “He let me know his situation, where he wanted to go, and what he wanted to do. And we figured out how we could help him on our end—help him get back to school and just be a good young man. We appreciate those stories the most.”

Between the mentoring and the studying and the parks department-ing, it’s difficult to imagine Kelly unwinding. “I just relax and chill with friends,” Kelly says. “And I was an athlete my whole life—I played football in high school and college—so working out, too.” Of course Kelly also finds time to work out.

“You’re always working, in this capacity, so when you get a chance to just sit down and relax, and go out and enjoy some views somewhere, or travel, those are the things that keep me kind of balanced and mellowed out.”

The other question everyone wants to ask after meeting Kelly: Does he have any vices?

He just laughs.

Lauren Larson is a writer and editor in New York City, aspiring to be a writer and editor in Bali.