Elijah’s Story: “A Bad Dream With a Lot of Good Stuff Happening After”

Elijah Diggins and father Dwayne at the NWCUA’s Boardwalk of Miracles auction, where credit unions raised more than $130,000 for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

Fifteen-year-old Elijah Diggins wanted to be prepared to speak to the audience gathered for the Fall 2013 Boardwalk of Miracles dinner and auction at Portland’s Hilton Hotel. He’d written out his speech, chosen his words carefully, and rehearsed with family.

The dark-haired teen with an infectious smile and a love of baseball, told the hushed crowd about his battle with Burkitt’s Leukemia and the life-saving care he’d received at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. Elijah was grateful for Doernbecher’s doctors and nurses and, yes, even for the good hospital food.

He wasn’t prepared, however, for the spontaneous and heartfelt response, particularly from one stranger in the audience.

“I couldn’t believe that something like this could come from just a speech from a 15-year-old,” Elijah said later.

It wasn’t “just” a speech and it wasn’t “just” an audience. This was a credit union audience whose members and business partners pledged $158,100 for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals that night.

Larry Middleman, President and CEO of CU Business Group, was impressed by Elijah’s speech and wanted to bid in the charity auction supporting the local children’s hospital that had helped Elijah recover his health and reclaim his place on the pitcher’s mound. Once the auction began, however, bidding on the golf outing didn’t seem quite right. Neither did the Seahawks package nor the winery bus tour.

Next came the Major League Baseball spring training package—two nights and three baseball games for two people in Scottsdale, Arizona. Middleman’s CU Business Group had donated the package because he thought it might raise a lot of money. Then it hit him. “Wait a minute,” he thought. “Elijah just talked about being a baseball player and just getting back to the field. I’m going to buy our package and give it to Elijah.”

When the bidding ended at $2,500, Middleman stood up and shared his news. “We’re going to donate this package to Elijah.”

“We were shocked,” said Elijah’s mother, Yuki Diggins. Neither she nor Elijah nor Elijah’s father knew what to say. But Yuki couldn’t help noticing that big smile on her son’s face. “It was the biggest smile I’d seen in a long time.”

When it came time to book the trip, Yuki said the family wanted to pay the difference so both parents and Elijah’s younger brother could come along. Not to worry, the family was told. CU Business Group’s Generosity Fund would pay for them all. Another credit union contact made it possible for Elijah to go out on the field during the Arizona Diamondbacks’ batting practice and to ask players, including first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, to sign a ball.

Larry Middleman, President and CEO of CU Business Group, surprised Elijah Diggins at a March 2014 spring training game in Arizona. Middleman brought a baseball to his young friend. “The best part,” he said, “was when Elijah asked me to sign it.”

“We’d always wanted to go to Arizona and that was the first time we’d had to enjoy the family after all we’d been through,” Yuki said. “It meant so much to us.”

It meant something to Larry Middleman, too. One afternoon, as Elijah and his family sat in the front row in the Scottsdale stadium watching a Diamondbacks’ game, Larry surprised his newfound friend: “Excuse me,” he said to Elijah, “is this seat taken?”

Big grins followed.

“It was awesome,” Elijah said. “He came to see me and to see how I was doing.”

Larry and Elijah continue to see each other from time to time. Elijah turned the tables during one visit and presented Larry a gift of his own: a jacket he’d designed as part of a Nike-sponsored Doernbecher Freestyle project.

The jacket, along with other mementos of their friendship, is proudly displayed at CU Business Group offices.

“I’ve been in banking and other for-profit industries,” Larry said. “There’s just a clear difference in the credit union world and how credit union people do things. From the CEO on down. It permeates the culture of the industry and I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Elijah, now 16, is a sophomore at Tualatin High School. He visits Doernbecher every three months to have his blood tested. He feels like he’s “been through a bad dream with a lot of good stuff happening after.” He’s been working out in a gym so that he’s ready to play baseball for his high school team by spring 2015.

The generosity shown to him by Larry, the credit unions, and others inspires Elijah to give back as well.

For starters, he wants to return to Doernbecher. As a volunteer. “I know how much a difference it makes,” he said, “to have someone there for you.”

The credit unions of Oregon and Washington not only improve their members’ lives, they are foundational to the entire Northwest economy. Learn more here.

 

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