PUBLISHED: 4:12 PM on Wednesday, October 4, 2006
Reaching out
Citizens organize fund-raiser to support former Juneau family as boy battles leukemia

Courtesy photos
  Jonathan Diebels, 4, known as Might Marrow Man to his family and friends is battling leukemia. A chili feed and silent auction will be held from 5-7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, at St. Paul's Church to raise funds for the family's medical expenses.
When a family faces a hardship, it is common for friends and family to lend a helping hand by making food or watching the children. That is not so simple since the family of 4-year-old Jonathan Diebels, who is battling acute myelogenous leukemia, moved away from Juneau more than a year ago.

However, the community of Juneau is finding a way to help the Diebels pay mounting medical costs with a chili dinner and silent auction to be held from 5-7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 7, at St. Paul's Church.

Donna and Paul Diebels moved to Oklahoma from Juneau just more than a year ago, said family friend Melissa McCormick, who is the co-chair of the fund-raising event. After the move, Jonathan was diagnosed with leukemia. The Diebels also have two older sons, Joey, 9, and Jack, 5. The two older boys and their father are in Oklahoma right now.

If Jonathan is doing better by the end of the week then he may be able to stay at the Ronald McDonald House and his family will come up to join them in Minnesota where Jonathan has been receiving treatment, McCormick said.

"This is a very proud family, and not the kind of people who would ask for money," McCormick said. "We have a nice committee of really loving people who want to help this family.

"The fundraiser began with the chili feed idea. Since then it has escalated and now includes the silent auction as well. We have received a lot of community support."

Along with chili and cornbread made by friends and community volunteers, auction items have been donated from several Juneau businesses. Some of the top items include a bathroom counter and lavatory installation from Harri's Plumbing worth $1,250, two helicopter dogsled tour tickets from TEMSCO, an Alaska Canopy Adventures zipline tour for two and a Joann George print from Annie Kaills.

Family friend and co-chair Stephanie Allison said not only has the committee received donations of auction items, but people have given monetary donations as well.

"It's been amazing. That's the most unexpected thing - it's the generosity of strangers that's totally awesome," Allison said. "The whole thing has been a wonderful thing to see what I already knew and that is that this is a supportive community."

The Creating Place will sponsor children's activities at the event. McCormick said one project will involve children putting their hand prints on a cape, which will be sent to Jonathan.

"He did have a bone marrow transplant, and we call him the Mighty Marrow Man," McCormick said. "The cape project will give the kids something really fun to do, and it's something they can send to him as a gesture of how much the kids in Juneau are thinking about him."

McCormick said she keeps track of Jonathan each day on the Web site, where his family writes an update as often as they can.

"He's tired of being in the hospital, with tubes and pokes and this little boy just wants to go home," McCormick said. "We just have to keep praying."

Although he has went through much over the past year, family said Jonathan has kept a good attitude.

"Jonathan has undergone a lot of treatment over the past year," said Bill Diebels, Jonathan's uncle and a Juneau resident. "The one thing about Jonathan is that he's always had a cheerful spirit, but it's just starting to wear on him," Bill Diebels said. "The one thing that I appreciate is that it wasn't his family that started this fund-raiser. I'm really appreciative of the close friends of Paul and Donna who started this and it's just ran like wildfire."

Allison said photos will be taken at Saturday's event and the craft group Donna Diebels was once a member of will make a scrapbook of the event to give to the family.

"They can't see and feel all of this, and so we wanted to do something that's tangible so they can get a feel for what's going on," Allison said. "Being so far away it's a very helpless feeling and finally there's something we can do. I'm just overwhelmed with how generous this community is because there are other fund-raisers going on at the same time. We need to take care of these kids, and that is really embodied in this community."

Cost for the chili feed and silent auction is $10 per person or $30 per family and can be purchased at both Alaska Club locations, the airport gift shop or by calling McCormick at 790-3949.