WASHOUGAL — Amid the excavators, dirt and grass, Russ Laney sees a neighborhood forming.
Laney told that to a small group gathered off Crown Road in Washougal on Monday before they stuck shovels in the dirt and commenced a groundbreaking ceremony as part of a fundraising effort for St. Jude Children Research Hospital.
“This is a special time to kick things off, and what a special place to do it,” he said.
St. Jude is a pediatric research and treatment facility in Memphis, Tenn., that does not charge for treatment. Fundraising is key to the hospital’s mission, and in seven months there will be a $900,000 home resting where Laney spoke. It will be built without cost to St. Jude, but all proceeds from the final sale will benefit the hospital.
The house will debut in September for the NW Natural Parade of Homes. Builder Marnella Homes is donating labor and materials. Others are donating plumbing, drywall, HVAC and more. Sponsors include Shaw Floors, Trane, Brizo and Bosch.
A compassionate community
The home in the Magnolia Heights housing development is part of St. Jude Dream Home Showplace. Dream Home has constructed more than 420 homes nationwide since 1991, and generated more than $400 million for St. Jude research and treatment. But this home is the first in the Portland metro area.
“We’re so thrilled to have it in our hometown of Washougal,” Washougal Mayor Molly Coston said. “I think we’re a compassionate community, so it fits into the community spirit we got here.”
Tony Marnella, owner of Marnella Homes in Camas, said this project is personal to him, as his family has dealt with a cancer diagnosis before. Marnella said he understands the emotional roller coaster that families go through, financially and emotionally, so he wanted to give back.
“They shouldn’t have to worry about the financial cost, all the things that go into that. They should just be focused on getting well,” he said.
DeeAnna Janku, a development representative for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital who lives in Washougal, brought her son Gideon to the groundbreaking. Gideon, who is turning 10 on Saturday, was diagnosed with pediatric melanoma in 2013, and still does checkups once a year in Memphis with St. Jude’s.
“We never get a bill. You don’t get a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food,” Janku said. “That’s because they believe that all a family should worry about is helping their child live.”
Janku wasn’t working for St. Jude when Gideon got cancer, but started a job in 2018 with them. It’s been a meaningful job, given her connection to pediatric cancer.
“It was exciting to make my work feel like it really mattered to families like us,” she said. “It was something I was really passionate about.”
A new community
Moments before golden shovels hit the dirt, Laney explained what the groundbreaking meant. He said it’s a ceremony that symbolizes creating something that wasn’t there before, which is similar to advancements in cancer research. You start with little to nothing, and make gains.
When St. Jude’s opened in 1962 there was a 4 percent survival rate for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, Laney said. Now that survival rate stands above 90 percent. That’s a huge gain, but much like construction for the Dream Home, Laney said there’s still work to be done.
“We’re not done,” he said.