LYNN — When Tatiana De Leoñ heard someone was collecting bottle caps and putting them to good use, she knew it was the perfect opportunity to contribute to her community.
The Lincoln-Thomson fifth-grader saw a post on Facebook from Lisa Wallace, president of Community Path of Lynn Coalition, seeking help to collect the environmentally unfriendly plastic bottle caps and wanted to jump in on the action. As part of the coalition’s community path, Wallace said the caps will be melted down and turned into weather-resistant outdoor furniture, such as chairs, benches, and tables.
“The community has done so many good things for me, my friends, and my family,” said De Leoñ. “I just thought it was time to give back.”
Bags and buckets of plastic caps that De Leoñ helped collect are beginning to take over her home, Wallace’s home, and her elementary school’s entranceway. The 11-year-old said she thinks she has helped collect more than 10,000 caps.
Thanks to a parent at her school who works for Coca Cola, the soda company has also donated caps and will donate trucks when they need to be delivered to the facility that will melt them down.
“This one little girl started all this and other people saw she was doing it and they joined her,” said Wallace. “I am so grateful for her and excited that this is the type of children that are in our community. She’s a great role model and perfect example of what our city has to offer.”
Wallace said she was shocked when she realized it was an elementary school student reaching out to her. Soon, she said, she came to learn that De Leoñ is a leader in her student council and a girl who truly puts her community first.
“I can’t wait to see what she does when she gets older,” said Wallace. “She’s a rock star kid.”
Inspired by a park in Saugus that her and her family visit weekly, De Leoñ said she wanted to help create a prettier community. She will soon be recognized by the Statehouse with a citation and, if Wallace can make it happen, by the city council as well.
“It makes me feel proud because of all the continued support from my friends, family, teachers, and God,” said De Leoñ. “I think the community path will be a nice, new change for Lynn. It’s going to look so pretty with all the benches and furniture.”
The concept for the community path is to bring needed resources into Lynn’s neighborhoods to help residents have a stake in the city’s economic growth and development, Wallace said. It will start at Boston Street and Lincoln Avenue, connect from the railroad to Market Basket. From there it goes across the street and over the Bennett Street bridge to the River Works station and then onto the boardwalk.
Wallace said it will have murals and art installations in partnership with Beyond Walls and Raw Art Works, a farm and raised garden beds in collaboration with the Food Project and the cap-melted outdoor furniture. The path’s most recent partnership is MassDevelopment, an economic and finance agency.
De Leoñ may have helped bring in thousands of caps, but she isn’t the only one making efforts. Wallace said students in Lynn Tech’s Freshstart life skills program, North Shore Community College’s Upward Bound program, and members of the girl scouts have also helped to collect plastic caps.
Wallace has also put together a cap collecting event on June 8, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., at IronBound Marketplace.
“The path will help uplift the lives of residents who live there,” said Wallace. “With all this development in city, the last thing I want is someone to be pushed out because their home values have gotten so high and they can’t afford it. There is no real solution for gentrification but at least we can give people options to raise the standards where if they want to stay, they can stay.”