GoFundMe campaigns set up for two sets of tenants displaced by the Sept. 27 house fire in the 1300 block of 35th Avenue continue to garner contributions. (Roger Knox - Morning Star)

Teen tenants of Vernon house fire given gift of music

RJ and J.R. Liebelt don’t feel they’re starting from scratch after losing their worldly possessions

Fire Prevention Week is a reminder to Canadians that house fires can affect the lives of anyone, without warning. Conversely, a Vernon house fire in late September served as a reminder of the support the community offers to those whose homes meet that tragic fate.

When Vernon teen brothers RJ and J.R Liebelt saw their worldly possessions go up in flames in the Sept. 27 house fire on East Hill, they had no idea what kind of community outreach would come to their aid — and what’s taken place in the weeks after the event has left them amazed.

“The generosity of this town is crazy,” said J.R., 17. “The support we’ve been receiving has been immense.”

“It doesn’t feel like I’m starting from square one right now which is the greatest thing. I’ve lost everything but it still feels like I have so much,” 19-year-old RJ said.

Hours after the fire, members of the community were rounding up items to support the two brothers as well as the family living upstairs — Emma and her two children. In particular, the community ensured that all were kept well-clothed.

“I’ve got like 34 outfits already, and honestly I feel like I have more clothes than I had before,” J.R says with a laugh.

A GoFundMe page was started for Emma, who then decided to direct 20 per cent of the donations to her former downstairs neighbours. That page has since reached $8,915 towards its $10,000 goal.

Music is a common passion between the two boys. J.R plays the bass as one of his favourite hobbies, while RJ has plans to go to Capilano University for a major in musical theatre and a minor in jazz. Both J.R’s bass and RJ’s saxophone were lost in the fire, but that’s proven to be another setback the community is willing to make up for.

READ MORE: Firefighters battle blaze in Vernon home

“I’ve had some people reach out actually and say that they have friends who have kids or people they know who have a saxophone that they don’t play often so they’re willing to give me one if I need it, which is crazy,” RJ said. It will be impossible to find a true replacement for the saxophone, as he’d received it due to a scholarship from the Vernon Jazz Club after he worked his way up to being of the best performers in his grade.

RJ hasn’t taken up an offer of a saxophone yet due to lacking space for personal items (B.C. Emergency Social Services and Canadian Red Cross put them up in a hotel for a week and they are currently staying with friends), but thanks to a donation of a keyboard, the brothers are able to play music again.

“Both me and RJ really wanted to get into piano playing — RJ a lot. I remember he was talking about getting a keyboard, or lessons — all that type of stuff. So it was so nice,” J.R said.

For RJ, who has ambitions to make a career out of music and musical theatre, the whirlwind of events that have transpired over the last few weeks will stay with him, and will have an influence on the music he goes on to write.

“I definitely think this whole situation will affect my inspiration, my music and whatever I write in the future, be it about hope or anguish or loss or whatever.

“From experiencing the whole scene, the house going up in flames, knowing I’m losing everything — it’s definitely quite the experience for any kind of artist. And then just having that help after the fact, it makes me feel like I have to write, I can’t afford not to.”

READ MORE: Fire Prevention Week sparks safety reminder for Vernon residents

READ MORE: Man breaks 2 B.C. records at annual pumpkin weigh off


Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
Email me at Brendan.Shykora@vernonmorningstar.com
Follow us: Facebook | Twitter

Just Posted

Firefighters investigating North Okanagan home blaze

Crews report having the fire under control

Santa to kick off holiday season in West Kelowna

Saint Nick will be at two community events in West Kelowna at the beginning of December

Kelowna innkeeper’s fundraiser hits $1 million mark

This year’s Innkeeper’s Gala raises $84,080, pushing 30-year total to more than $1 million

Freezing rain, flurries possible for Central and North Okanagan

Risk of freezing rain tonight and Saturday morning in Central, North Okanagan and Connector

Kelowna nominated as a “chill getaway” by LGBTQ+ travel guide

It’s the only Canadian city on the “chill” category

PHOTOS: NHL honours B.C. grandma’s battle against cancer in special match

Shea Theodore’s grandmother Kay Darlington dropped the puck at a special ‘Hockey Fights Cancer’ game

Mosaic Forest Management announces forestry shutdown

Thousands of forestry workers in Coastal B.C. will be affected by ‘curtailment’

Nothing wrong with being mistaken for a sex trade worker

Twice in my life, I’ve been mistaken for a sex trade worker.… Continue reading

Support sought for senior dog at SPCA in North Okanagan

Teki came in underweight, had surgery to remove two painful lumps and dental work

Appeal dismissed for B.C. man who assaulted woman in ‘thoroughly modern’ fight over phone

‘Both were seeking evidence of cheating by the other,’ says B.C. Supreme Court in Nanaimo

Princeton pot plant owners concerned about fake website

We don’t want people thinking that’s our company.

Motorcycle ride in memory of Penticton man

Motorcycle enthusiast was murdered in Kamloops earlier this year

Vernon’s homeless numbers see modest decrease

An annual fall survey found there are 151 homeless people in the city compared to 161 in 2018

More job cuts fall on Tolko employees, not just Vernon

Forest company trims another 44 positions

Most Read