Her “Good morning, how can I help you” greetings are always friendly and helpful.

While Linda Kim-Zaccagnini admits she’s somewhat shy, she has learned the importance of a helping hand. And as the welcoming voice of Garfield Elementary in Olympia, she’s been the greeter of her school, welcoming people on the phone or as they walk in the front door.

Meet, greet and connect. It’s a job she’s gleefully held for 13 years now, and her pleasant greetings and warm welcomes haven’t gone unnoticed. As the smiling administrative assistant at Garfield, she was named this year’s Olympia School District’s classified school employee of the year for 2019. For her, it’s an unexpected high five.

“It was a total shock. I’m honored,” Kim-Zaccagnini said about receiving the award. “I couldn’t have gotten this without the support of my fellow staff members. It was definitely a total shock. I wasn’t expecting it at all.”

Over the years, it’s been her drive to help, her commitment to connect students and parents with the proper program. The annual award rewards district workers who show outstanding work, professional leadership and collaboration. As the school’s connector, as their welcoming voice, Kim-Zaccagnini has been just that.

“For many years, Linda has been the point person for Garfield Elementary,” said Brendon Chertok, Garfield’s principal. “Her thoughtful approach toward students, families and staff has contributed to an environment that is inclusive and compassionate. Particularly with families who do not speak English, Linda’s ability to speak several languages has eased the transition for many of our families.”

Linda Kim-Zaccagnini
Linda Kim-Zaccagnni holds the flowers she was given at her award ceremony. Photo credit: Susan Gifford, OSD communication department

In her nomination letter, they praised Kim-Zaccagnini for her “innate ability to relate with kids and support them in a thoughtful and kind manner.” Her compassionate, welcoming manner has roots in her past. And her travels abroad – she lived with her Italian husband in Italy for 10 years – have sharpen her awareness of a need to connect and help. She’s learned the importance of helping people facing a task or a challenge to connect with someone who can help.

“My background is Korean. I don’t speak Korean, but I grew up with people with diverse backgrounds,” Kim-Zaccagnini said. “So, I think that’s where I get an understanding of different cultures. And I also like to travel.”

Those trips to Italy, Spain and Morocco have opened an understanding and appreciation of people who may be facing a challenge. Being that connector, that person who helps someone through a problem, has been something that she’s grown into over the years. In the past, it wasn’t her nature to be the person in the front of the class, giving directions.

“I’m kind of the person who always likes to sit in the back of the room,” she said with a chuckle. “I don’t like to be noticed. Being in the front of the office has actually helped me in other areas.”

She’s learned to be in that connecting role.

“This job has helped me bring that out through the years,” she said.

In 1997, Kim-Zaccagnini began working at Garfield as a paraeducator after working several years as a parent volunteer. Now, in addition to being Garfield’s connector and welcomer, she’s helped organize and coordinate after-school classes for Garfield students. With the help of volunteers, she’s organized classes and sporting events and homework clubs.

In the nomination letter, Kim-Zaccagnini was praised for her “innate ability to relate with kids and support them in a thoughtful and kind manner.” Her warm manner has helped create a warm and inviting environment at Garfield. The nominating committee said that Garfield is stronger as a community because of her work.

The Olympia School District staff and community gathered at meeting and award ceremony. Photo credit: Susan Gifford, OSD communications department

Kim-Zaccagnini isn’t the first Garfield worker to get an award and a pat on the back. This is the third year in a row that a worker from Garfield has received a district award. Denise Pigue received the award in 2018 and Michell Orwig got the award in 2017.

Kim-Zaccagnini will be presented her award at a special recognition ceremony during the December 16 Olympia School Board meeting. The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Know 111 Administrative Center at 111 Bethel Street in Olympia.

Kim-Zaccagnini’s helping hand mentality has been nurtured by her living abroad, giving her insight to a need to help others.

“I guess living abroad for 10 years in Italy helped me understand that,” she said. “I feel traveling gives you an appreciation for other cultures and understanding.”

In talking with Kim-Zaccagnini, her kind hearted nature is obvious. She’s not a moaner and groaner. Another factor that helped nurture that helping, kind-heart nature was raising two boys and making sure they always got to soccer practice.

“Yeah, my boys played competitive soccer,” she said. “Within that community, we know a lot of people.”

In defining her job, Kim-Zaccagnini summarized it with this.

“I guess supporting families and staff members,” she said. “I just work here. That’s my job. There are some families who are struggling.”

And she’s always there ready to help whenever she can.

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