Best friends Lilia Dinniman, left, and Kaela Dahl are seen here on June 14 during a high school graduation party for Lilia’s brother, Zachary. Lilia and Kaela have been friends for more than two years, since the first day of fifth-grade at Minter Creek Elementary School. Photo courtesy of Meredyth Dinniman, for KP News

Sometimes, a tragedy brings out the best in the community.

When 12-year-old Kaela Dahl died suddenly and unexpectedly on July 27, family friends and community members mobilized to help her grandparents — who were her legal guardians — to provide both emotional and financial support.

Wauna resident Meredyth Dinniman was among the first to action, as her daughter, Lilia, was best friends with Kaela.

“They were peas in a pod, yin and yang,” Dinniman said of the girls. The two met on the first day of school in fifth grade at Minter Creek Elementary school, after the Dinniman family moved to the area two years ago.

“I first met Kaela at Minter Creek,” Lilia, 12, said. “She sat next to me.” The two quickly became inseparable. “We had sleepovers like every day,” Lilia said.

Lilia moved on to Harbor Ridge Middle School in Gig Harbor while Kaela attended Key Peninsula Middle School, but that didn’t stop the two from seeing each other almost every day.

“(Kaela) was so intelligent, had an amazing sense of humor and was fun-loving,” Dinniman said. “I loved her like my own daughter.”

When news of Kaela’s death began to spread, Dinniman spoke on the phone with Carolyn Dahl, Kaela’s paternal grandmother, who was her legal guardian. “I asked how we can help. Can we start a GoFundMe account? She didn’t even know what that was. After I explained it, she said any help would be very appreciated,” Dinniman said.

Carolyn and Peter Dahl didn’t have the funds to cover the funeral expenses, which initially came in at $5,000, so Dinniman set up a GoFundMe account and set the goal at $15,000, knowing there were going to be incidental costs involved beyond the funeral expenses. The family held a private burial service on Aug. 7 at Longbranch Cemetery.

Within fours days of establishing the account, she had secured nearly $6,000 in pledged donations.

Want to donate?

To donate to the Kaela Dahl fund on GoFundMe, go online to gofundme/kaelamariedahl.

“There is still the cost of the headstone, miscellaneous costs, and the family is planning a memorial service Aug. 23 at Longbranch Improvement Club,” Dinniman said.

She also started posting on Facebook about the fundraising and has been amazed at the response. “I started getting private messages from people I never knew. It’s amazing how many people care about the community and how many people want to help,” she said.

That includes Susan Mendenhall, Mindy Baxter-Wilkins, Marilyn Hartley and Sylvia Nord Wilson. The four founded KP Cares two years ago, and its mission is to address emergency-based or medical-based needs of people with fundraising or to help their cause, Mendenhall said.

The group heard about the tragedy and threw its fundraising expertise behind the Dahl family to organize a car wash and bake sale that took place in early August, hosted at the Red Barn. Children who attend the Red Barn helped with the car wash, as did Boy Scouts from Troop 220.

“We have the resources on our KP WA page (on Facebook) to create an event such as this,” Mendenhall said.

Sami Jensen, a volunteer at the Red Barn Youth Center, heard about the KP Cares connection and helped to facilitate the car wash to take place at the Red Barn.

“Kaela was a classmate of my daughter, and I know her stepfather and step-grandmother,” Jensen said.

She approached Laura Condon, executive director of the Red Barn, to get the green light. “I didn’t hesitate one moment to do it,” Condon said. “This is a very close-knit community and I felt this is something we should do.”

Along with the car wash and bake sale, the daylong fundraising event included face painting (Lilia helped with that activity) and crafts and gift sales. Bake sale items also were sold at the Food Market in Key Center.

All told, the event raised $5,311 for the family.

“The best part of this community is when something tragic happens, you find you’re not alone,” Condon said. “It’s amazing how many people come out to support you.”

“Kaela is worth all this and more,” Dinniman said. “She was taken at such a young age.

“I just hope we can hold on to her memory, I want her to rest peacefully, and I want to be able to say goodbye in a good way,” she said.

Kaela’s best friend put it in the simplest terms. “I miss her a lot,” Lilia said.

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