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Kelly Hackman takes the helm at Chasco Fiesta

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NEW PORT RICHEY - The new face of Chasco Fiesta should be familiar to many West Pasco residents.

Kelly M. Hackman has stepped into the role of executive director as the line-up for the nine-day March community festival is taking shape.

With some 17 years as a Chasco volunteer, Hackman believes she can provide some continuity.

"That's half my life," she noted during an interview this week.

Hackman, the sole paid Chasco Fiesta employee, will direct hundreds upon hundreds of volunteers for one of Pasco's largest community events.

At the helm, Hackman wants to generate more publicity about the large impact of Chasco Fiesta. The event pumped about $1.9 million into the local economy this year and helped a few dozen nonprofit community groups raise funds.

Hackman recalled growing up in a family that stressed giving back to the community.

A native of the New Port Richey area, some of her most vivid memories as a tyke involved attending the Chasco street parade with her folks.

"I even remember my dad flipping chicken in the park when I was little," Hackman commented in a press release. Her dad, Tom Maki, owner of Beacon Woods Florist, was president of the Lion's Club in the mid-1980s when the service club held a Chicken Bar-B-Q as a part of the second weekend of Chasco Fiesta.

As a teen, Hackman took part in the street parade as a band member, first with Bayonet Point Middle School, then with the Marchin' Rams from Ridgewood High.

By 1996, she segued into Chasco volunteer work. She followed in the footsteps of her stepfather, Don Zisa, who was a member of the Chasco steering committee in the late 1990s.

At the helm of Chasco Fiesta, one of Hackman's first tasks will be putting together an application for a grant to promote the festival. The event got about $21,000 through Pasco Tourist Development Council for the 2013 festival.

Then Hackman hopes to step up a publicity campaign this fall. She hopes to convey the passion she feels about the tradition of Chasco Fiesta.

"I want to get the word out more," Hackman said this week. "I want to work on more partnerships. I want people to feel about it the way I do."

The 2014 edition once again will begin and end in March, she said. Dates will be March 21-29. This year, Chasco leaders wanted to avoid conflicts with Easter weekend and other area events. Tides for the boat parade also play a role. So the 2013 show had been pushed into early April.

The timing in the change of leadership limited the search for job applicants as prep work began for 2014. Kristen King departed from the post to start a job as events and community outreach coordinator for the New Port Richey Parks and Recreation Department.

Several board members urged Hackman to assume the Chasco reins. She served the past five years on the Chasco steering committee. From late 2001 to late 2004, Hackman was marketing director of Greater New Port Richey Main Street.

Other volunteer work has included chairmanship of the New Port Richey Public Library advisory board and vice president of Friends of Library.

"We are very excited that Kelly has decided to take on this new role," Cami Austin, chairman of the Chasco Fiesta, said in a press release. "She has been a part of this event for many years and really understands the importance of Chasco Fiesta and all that it does for our community."

As her Chasco duties exponentially increase, Hackman especially appreciates the support from her husband, Bryan.

Planning for next year's event began not long after the 2013 edition wrapped up.

"The minute it ends, the next steering committee starts" pretty much, Hackman remarked with a chuckle.

"From January to March, you're not going to see me" a lot, Hackman kidded her husband, only half-jokingly.

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