Reynolds Park’s five high school graduates don’t think of themselves as the Class of 2012.
They call themselves the Class of 2016, because all of them are college-bound.
In June, the community of 16 Habitat for Humanity homes on Tacoma’s East Side yielded its biggest crop of high school diplomas to date.
Lincoln High School grads Francis Mukoiko, Sarah Kyewagera and Myra Suarez will go to Tacoma Community College. Aache Howard, also of Lincoln, is settled in at Washington State University. And Dang Le, a graduate of the International Baccalaureate program at Henry Foss High School, has a full scholarship to Stanford University.
Aache’s mom, Latasha Howard, couldn’t be prouder. Aache was one of the Lincoln Center students who earned a combined $2 million in scholarships. Yes, Howard credits her daughter’s great brain and study habits. Yes, she credits the state’s College Bound scholarships for low-income students with good grades and clean records.
But Reynolds Park, she said, has been a major factor in her daughter’s success.
“Having a stable, safe and affordable home makes the difference in the direction people go,” Howard said.
Having a home you helped build expands your idea of what you can do.
The five young people were painters on the Habitat crews of homeowners and volunteers. They were 14 years old at the time.
With Habitat, families living on a low income apply to buy a home with a zero percent mortgage. They volunteer to work on their house, and on other families’ houses. They take classes in financial literacy and the responsibilities of homeownership. They set up a homeowners association.
They settle in to a home of their own.
Myra, her mother and her siblings used to share a room in her aunt’s home in Puyallup. Myra’s mother was waiting for a kidney transplant.
“I don’t think we were close with the community,” Myra said. “Not like here, where we know everybody and hang out.”
Francis’ family could not gather for a meal in one room in any of the apartments where they used to live
Aache, her mom and her siblings were always sick from the mold in their rental house.
Life got better when the families, including 40-plus kids, moved into Reynolds Park in 2008.
Myra traces the years by the games they played.
“When we first moved here, everyone was into skates, then bikes, then skateboards, cards, capture the flag, zombie tag, then back to cards,” she said. “Then we went back to zombie tag, cards, capture the flag and basketball.”
Francis and Dang nodded along with the history, and flinched a little at the mention of basketball. It got them into the biggest trouble the cul-de-sac has seen, or heard.
The kids bounced the ball too late on summer nights. The sound annoyed the adults. The adults admonished them, and they stopped.
It’s like that on their street, they said.
“This is a family-oriented place,” Howard said. “There are no fences. Everybody runs through everybody’s yard.”
Their potlucks and block parties are delicious with dishes from Moldova, Russia, Vietnam, Mexico, the Philippines, Ukraine, Jamaica and Uganda.
That was all new to the Le family.
“When I was young, we moved around a lot,” Dang said. “Coming to a new house has shown me how one thing can change your outlook on life.”
He turned out to be a community resource.
“I met Dang’s dad over a pile of dirt,” Howard said. “He was telling me how smart Dang was. I don’t think he thought I understood how smart Dang was, so he brought out his transcript.”
It was 4.0 all the way.
“Two days later I was at his door with my daughter and an algebra book,” Howard said.
Dang’s father, Hai Le, is a master landscaper whose garden spills down the hill overlooking apartments along Portland Avenue. This time of year, if there is a home on the block without squash, he supplies it.
“It’s more like a family here,” Myra said. “When we talk to our friends about it, they say, ‘You don’t live in a cul-de-sac. You live in your own city.’”
It’s a city on the hill, and they built email@example.com