EAGLE, Idaho — See Jack run track. See Jack throw the shot put. See Jack, a teenager in this small city in the foothills of Boise, win an award from the mayors of his county for service and inspiration to the community.
But even more inspiring is the simple beauty of this: See Jack grow up.
That was anything but a given, back in 2014, when he was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor called craniopharyngioma that was compressing his optic nerve. Sent to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital as a best chance for survival, Jack had surgery and several rounds of proton therapy. Now he’s approaching his 15th birthday, and living a full, all-out life.
He’s also the face of the Idaho St. Jude Dream Home® Giveaway. More than that, he’s an embodiment of the cause.
For Joe Atalla and Jenna Englund, co-founders of Berkeley Building Co., and partners with St. Jude for seven years, it’s a chance to see a flesh-and-blood example of the lifesaving work they’re supporting.
“That really brings it home,” said Joe. “We're raising this money, St. Jude is able to do the research and use this technology, and then you meet the person on the other side who actually received that treatment and is now growing into a man because of what they were able to do for him.
“It's so cool to see him grow up, the coolest thing.”
Years ago, Joe and Jenna toured St. Jude and saw the proton beam that was so important to so many sick kids. Then they saw the real-world impact of the proton beam when they met Jack, and suddenly their work had even more meaning. It was even more personal.
Maybe that’s a reason the Idaho home giveaway is such a success, even by national standards. By Joe’s recollection, 5,777 tickets were sold the first year Berkeley Building was involved. This year, it was more than 17,000.
The Boise-area real estate market is one of the nation’s hottest, but there’s more at work here. There’s also a true community love for the cause, despite the St. Jude campus in Memphis being some 1,800 miles from what’s known as Idaho’s Treasure Valley. People here know St. Jude does good in Idaho because they can see it, in Jack’s smiling face.
“Tickets are selling out before anyone even has a chance to see the house,” said Joe. “We'd love to think they're doing it because they love the house, but the reality is they're doing it for St. Jude.”
Support for St. Jude in the Treasure Valley probably stems from as many individual reasons as there are, well, people flocking to the area. For Jenna, it flows from her own personal experience.
“My daughter didn't go to St. Jude because that's not the type of illness she has,” she said, “but I know what it's like as a parent to know your child has something they could die from, what that feels like.”
Jenna’s daughter has heterotaxy syndrome. She’s had multiple open heart surgeries, is pacemaker-dependent and wasn’t expected to live through birth. She’s now 10. “I know what it's like when you're trying to figure out how to manage travel for treatment, places to stay while you're there, and the expenses involved with that, and so the fact that St. Jude alleviates those concerns for families, knowing what it's like on the other side, it's really a motivating factor.”
What resonates for Joe is a little more ineffable. It has something to do with what drew him to architecture: building a tangible legacy, feeling part of a concrete (no building pun intended) accomplishment. As a home builder, this means — for Jenna, too — creating a space to hold lives, families, memories, moments. All the emotional touchpoints of, say, the house you grew up in, or the first one you shared with your spouse.
“A home is more than just the square feet,” Joe said. “It's not the bricks and sticks at the end of the day. It's more than just the structure that's there, it's the people that have called it home. It all ties together the same for St. Jude — we're creating something for all those St. Jude families. The St. Jude Dream Home, at the end of the day, it's not just a house.”
It’s the people who live there, the life they make together. It’s families. It’s kids, like Jack, running and playing, living life and growing up.