The July 4, 2007, kidnapping and subsequent murder of 12-year-old Zina Linnik motivated kids from her Tacoma elementary school to dream big dreams in her memory.
So far, those dreams have helped to raise more than $1 million toward a $3.5 million campaign for park improvements in the Hilltop and an adjoining neighborhood. The kids from Zina’s Hilltop school, McCarver Elementary, are also teaching university students important lessons about civic engagement.
On Monday night, 11 fifth- and sixth-graders involved with the Zina Linnik Project gathered at the University of Puget Sound to talk about their experiences.
“You usually think kids don’t have as many rights as adults,” said McCarver fifth-grader Matthew North. “Adults can vote. We can’t. Adults can run for president. We can’t. But I learned how our voice can be heard.”
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McCarver students have traveled to Olympia to speak with legislators and the governor. They have also visited with Tacoma city and parks officials. Together with a long list of community groups, including the Greater Metro Parks Foundation, they have helped to push the project toward reality. Groundbreaking on improvements at McCarver Park, next to the school, and at Wright Park, in the nearby Stadium District, could come this summer.
Students from the University of Washington’s landscape and urban design program used McCarver kids’ ideas to design projects at both parks. The list includes a “sprayground” water play area at Wright Park and community gardens, a school garden, and a reading circle and amphitheater at McCarver Park. There will also be a memorial to Zina installed there.
Students from UPS are documenting the McCarver student efforts in hopes of providing a template for youth community involvement.
“There’s nothing more empowering and humbling than seeing fifth-graders tell you how it’s done,” said UPS sociology professor Monica DeHart.
Monday’s panel included both current and former McCarver students. Several kids from the high-poverty school spoke about how their involvement in the project helped inspire college and career dreams.
Many of the students never knew Zina. She would have entered high school this year. But several of them know other kids in the Linnik family who attend McCarver. That knowledge, along with a desire to improve their community, has helped motivate them, they said.
“This project has pulled us together and made us more like a family,” said sixth-grader and former McCarver student Donnie Cilenti.
Mack Jones, another former McCarver student who’s now a sixth-grader at Jason Lee Middle School, spoke about making tiles that will decorate the park.
“Fifteen or 20 years later,” he said, “we will be able to go back and say, ‘We built this. This is history. Nobody can tear it down.’”
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635
WANT TO HELP?
You can purchase a T-shirt in support of the Zina Linnik Project for $10, plus a donation.
You can also volunteer to help McCarver kids with the park project. To buy a shirt or to volunteer, call the school at 253-571-4879.
For a video on the project, go to www.metroparksfoundation.org/zina-linnik-project.