Friends, strangers find ways to help girl with leukemia

Community pitches in

Posted: Friday, December 15, 2006




Ericka Reynolds, 12, a sixth-grader at Kenai Middle School, recently completed her first round of chemotherapy at Children’s Hospital in Seattle. While Reynolds and her family have been enduring all the highs and lows that come with treatment for leukemia, they have drawn strength from the support of the community.

“You really don’t think about how much it affects everything, but the way the community has pulled together — it makes us feel good to be coming from Kenai,” said Melody Ruhl, Ericka’s mother, by phone from Seattle on Wednesday.

Indeed, quite a few members of the community have stepped forward with fundraising ideas to help the family with the expenses incurred during the course of Ericka’s treatment.

“We had a community meeting last week, and about 25 or 30 people showed up, but my phone has been ringing off the hook since then,” said Dena Cunningham. “There’s a couple of businesses that are sponsoring the family for Christmas, and there’s several other people who have proposed different fundraisers. There’s just a lot of people willing to help. I’m just trying to funnel them in the right dir-ection and let them help.”

Two events have been scheduled for Saturday. The Triumvirate Theatre and Bookstore in the Peninsula Center Mall in Soldotna will hold a book sale from noon to 6 p.m. Community members may pay any price they want for a book, with the proceeds to to be donated to the family.

For more information, call 953-7262 or e-mail Joe Rizzo at

Rizzo said Title Wave Books donated four pallets of books for the sale, so buyers are likely to find something of interest.

“There will be lots of great books for people to pick up and enjoy, so everybody wins,” Rizzo said.

Also Saturday, a dinner and auction will take place at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska. The event begins at 7 p.m. Cunningham said the Lions Club would be helping with the dinner while the Triumvirate Theatre’s Drop of the Hat Players would handle the entertainment and auction portion of the evening.

Rizzo said the Triumvirate group has an agreement to use Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” scripts free of charge for fundraising purposes.

For more information on the dinner and auction, call 283-3001, 252-1328, or 398-0294.

“It’s been put together quickly, but we wanted to do something this month while it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind,” Cunningham said.

Some help has come from people who know Reynolds and her family, while other help has come from elsewhere. Patricia Wyka, 83, of Soldotna, read about Ericka in the Clarion, and, as a fellow cancer patient, decided she had a purpose. Wyka is an avid painter and donated five of her paintings for the auction.

“The Lord’s given me something to do. I’ve painted five clowns and had them hanging on my wall in my kitchen. I was going to give them to the hospital, but Ericka’s story touched my heart. I said, those clowns have got to raise money for that child,” Wyka said.

Ruhl said the generosity of the community, from fellow soccer moms like Cunningham pitching in with fundraiser plans to acts of kindness from total strangers, has been overwhelming.

Ruhl said her close friend, Carrie Bondy, is caring for Ericka’s two younger sisters, Raquelle and Whitney, as well as watching their home and looking after her finances.

“I’m a single mom and pretty independent. It’s hard for me to accept all this, but what can I do, especially being here (in Seattle)? All these people helping us is phenomenal,” Ruhl said.

Ruhl said Ericka is doing OK after her first round of chemotherapy. She needs to remain in the hospital until her immune system has recovered enough to move to the nearby Ronald McDonald House, and she will remain in Seattle for several more rounds of chemotherapy.

Doctors also are checking to see if Ericka’s sisters might be a match for a bone marrow transplant.

“She’s just been a trooper as far as letting them do the procedures they’re doing,” Ruhl said of the way Ericka has handled the situation. “She’s been really good, and the doctors here, and the staff, have been phenomenal.”

Ericka said she has received plenty of well wishes from friends at home, and said they have helped. She had just one message to share with her friends: “Just that I miss them all.”

Ruhl said she is looking forward to seeing Raquelle and Whitney when they head to Seattle next week.

“We miss them. We’ve never been without them, and they’re having their hard times without their mom around, but my girlfriend stepped up — I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without Carrie taking care of my girls,” Ruhl said.

In addition to the book sale and the dinner and auction, Kenai Middle School is selling blue bracelets with Ericka’s name on them for $1, and an account, the Ericka Reynolds’ Fund, has been set up for the family at Wells Fargo Bank. The account number is 5229072326.

Cunningham said other events are planned for the next few months. Kenai Middle School will host an activity night, with the proceeds going to Ericka’s account, and a skate-a-thon is in the works.

“It’s truly amazing,” Cunningham said of the community support. “Every time I talk to Melody, she says, ‘How am I going to repay all these people?’ You don’t have to — if was our kid, we’d do the same thing.”

Will Morrow can be reached at

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