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Service today for Katie Helling

Joyce Hollister

A celebration of life, the life of one brave young girl, will be held today at Jacks Valley Elementary School.

Young friends of Katie Helling and their families are invited to “celebrate Katie’s life and God’s love for children” from 3 to 5 p.m. at the school where she had attended kindergarten through 2nd grade.

She died peacefully April 8 in her home, surrounded by family and friends. She was 9 years old.

It was just short of a year ago that Katie and her family, mother Jocelyn, father Don and brother Max, learned that Katie suffered from a rare tumor. Katie spent her whole life in Minden, but the last few months saw her traveling back and forth from her home to the Bay Area for treatment.

During her short life, her mother said, she volunteered in her community in many ways.

In 1992, Katie helped children of her own age in the school district’s TEDDY program by acting as a role model for developmentally disabled preschool students. At age 7, she raised puppies for the Douglas County Animal Shelter. She was a member of the Save the Manatee society.

Katie also was involved in youth athletics. She was active in the Carson Valley Girls Softball Association and a member of the Douglas Dolfins Swim Team.

She enjoyed creative writing, art, reading mythology and humorous poetry books. She was in the Douglas County School District’s Gifted and Talented program.

As Katie gave of herself to the community, members of the community gave to her in her last few weeks at home.

Becky Hickman, whose son Zachary was one of Katie’s best friends, organized meals for Don and Max while Katie and Jocelyn were in San Francisco last year. For Easter this year, she gathered items for a huge Easter basket filled with toys and goodies for the family. Thirty families took part in the Easter project.

Hickman said of the little girl, “Katie would be the kind of person that as an adult would probably do something wonderful for mankind.”

“In kindergarten,” she added, “there was a student with Down’s syndrome. It was easy for her to go alongside him and assist or just be a friend. She had a heart for kids.”

As Katie’s treatment resulted in the loss of her beautiful long hair, Hickman, who was trying to ease her son Zachary’s fears for his friend, said to him, “Who would ever thought that one of your best friends would be a baldheaded little girl?”

Zachary answered, “God.”

People who know the Hellings call them “an outstanding family” and “a very loving family.”

In the last few weeks, Katie was visited by members of the therapy dog group Dogs for Love and 4-H Guide Dog Puppy Club from Carson City.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation headquartered in Reno helped find dogs and small animals for her to pet and draw comfort from. Janet Miller, Michael Miller, Tamara Peterson, Robin Smith, Warren Wish and Diane Barndt were among the 4-H leaders and members of the Dogs for Love group who visited Katie with animals for her to pet. Several 4-H members visited, too.

Robin Smith of the 4-H Guide Dog Puppies Club says she was honored to be part of Katie’s life. Smith was able to locate a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, the breed of dog that Katie wished most to be able to see. Toni Zive of Reno took her dog Beau to visit after a quick call by Smith to the Klaich Animal Hospital in Reno.

The Reno office of Make-A-Wish is directed by Kate Sweeney, who helped facilitate visits by a mastiff with Katie in the hospital. Carson Valley Make-A-Wish Foundation wish-giver Elena Kesteloot helped facilitate the animal visits in the Bay Area and here.

“She had recently lost her dog and was really pining for another animal,” Kesteloot said. “I know that [the visits] really lifted her spirits. She was just such a wonderful little girl with so much hope and good thoughts. She gave us all hope.”

The celebration today is geared for children and families and will include music and the sharing of memories of Katie. Officiating will be Pastor Steve Erven of Carson Valley Community Church. Music teacher Jackie Maye has been helping plan the music.

“The whole focus,” said Jocelyn Helling, “is on the joy of life. Joy and life and God’s love for children.”

Katie Helling was born Nov. 30, 1987. She spent her life surrounded by a loving family and community.

She is survived by her parents and brother, maternal grandmother Trudie Van Allen of Carson City, paternal grandmother Ethel Helling of Colorado, three uncles, two aunts and 11 cousins.

Memorial contributions may be made to Ronald McDonald House, 1640 Scott St., San Francisco, Calif. 94115; National Childhood Cancer Foundation, P.O. Box 60012, Arcadia, Calif. 91066; or the Douglas County Public Library Gift Fund, 1625 Library Lane, Minden 89423.