Hickory man wants to build park for Zahra Baker

Rick Rozzelle can still see her face.

“She was really wide-eyed looking around at this store and all the things in it,” he said, of the girl with the prosthetic leg he saw in September.

Rozzelle is sure the little girl was Zahra Baker.

He said she was “scanning the whole place like she was happy to be there and was having a good time.”

Rozzelle also keeps a picture of Zahra Baker on his computer screen saver to keep him motivated about a project he came up with to honor her memory – an idea that is gaining support around Hickory.

He wants to build a park where children with disabilities can play alongside those without them.

"Something that makes kids light up when they get there, makes them want to come back,” said Rozzelle. “Give them an opportunity to play with other children with all special needs and abilities, as well as non-challenged kids."

Originally, he just envisioned swing sets or other playground equipment.

Then his church encouraged him to dream bigger – a playground and park with ball fields and other handicapped-accessible venues.

The idea caught on with community groups. Offers to help are already pouring in – e-mails offering advice, money, and fundraising help.

A Facebook page called “Let’s build a park in Zahra’s memory” has more than 300 members, and Saturday showed a post from Hickory mayor Rudy Wright pledging support.

So far, Rozzelle has had to turn down all of the donations because he wants to establish the group as a legitimate non-profit organization before he accepts money. It’s legal and logistical help he needs right now.

"A nonprofit organization or an attorney or an accountant to step up and help us with that so we can start collecting donations that we're having to turn down right now," he said.

There’s so much to think about for such a big project. Rozzelle has a to-do list that keeps growing by the day as he talks to groups that help the disabled and others who can help him get organized. He has a lot of contacts from his years as a local T-ball coach.

But what keeps him motivated is the memory of the young girl whose face smiles back at him each day from his computer. He wants everyone to remember her face and her story.

"I felt like our community needed some kind of guidance and healing as well as the rest of the world,” said Rozzelle. "I just want to cover a scar maybe."

Rozzelle is hosting a community meeting to discuss ideas on 6 p.m. Jan. 13 at the Golden Corral on Lenoir-Rhyne Boulevard.