In the moments before BC Finance Minister Mike De Jong announced the province’s intention to donate $250,000 to the Shriners, he took the opportunity to address the Nelsonite who made it possible — 12-year-old Talia Goertz.
“Talia, I need you to know that virtually everyone here today who participated in this relay experienced a moment — maybe when the sun was beating down, or the rain, or they were confronted by hills — and they thought ‘I’m going to do to this because Talia got through her surgery and her challenges’. You inspired us all the way.”
De Jong praised her as a “brave young lady” and thanked her parents Robert and Tracy for organizing the 241-kilometre relay that started in Spokane and ended Monday morning at the Prestige gazebo.
Robert organized the relay to raise awareness and funds for the Shriners after his daughter received treatment and free transportation to their hospital last year. But he said his wife did much of the heavy lifting behind the scenes.
“Tracy was a vital part of making this all happen,” he said. “Some of the media reports have made it seem like I’m a single father, but this was definitely a family effort all the way. I couldn’t have done it without her.”
And he’s thrilled at the outcome. Goertz said he’s forever grateful to the Shriners for the support they gave Talia, and having this chance to give back has been a thrill.
“I want to highlight the amazing job they do. There are hundreds of current BC residents who are patients of Shriners hospitals, and they look after transporting kids down to the hospitals at no charge to the family,” he said.
De Jong also praised the Shriners, joking that his old friend Goertz convinced him to participate in a “weak moment”.
“He knows whenever I run it’s a seismic event,” he joked, noting his 10-km contribution was a struggle. “But it’s easy to be inspired when you look at all the people here.”
De Jong said he finds Talia’s story compelling.
“Talia confronted those challenges with bravery, and with the support of her Mom and Dad. The last three days are a testament to how the community has rallied around this family and the work the Shriners do.”
Talia’s mother Tracy said the funds will go to good use.
“This donation will go a long way towards helping other children experience the exceptional level of care that we experienced last year,” she wrote online.
In a press release, Premier Christy Clark praised the Shriners.
“The Shriners do amazing work for sick children and their families, and the organization relies entirely on funds collected through their philanthropic efforts and private donations. For more than 100 years, the Shriners have helped thousands of kids get important treatment, regardless of the family’s ability to pay.”
De Jong said Clark is an ardent supporter of the Shriners, and was cheering his efforts.
The Shriners of BC and Yukon CEO and chairman Dan Mellor was thrilled by the cash infusion, and said his organization plans to put it to good use.
“On behalf of all the Shriners of British Columbia and Yukon, our patients and their families that we care for, we wish to express our deepest gratitude to the government of B.C. for this generous contribution and the personal effort of the Honourable Michael De Jong,” he said.
After the relay was finished, Tracy made sure that one more person got the recognition she deserved: her mother Diane Lloyd.
Online she wrote that Diane “was with us every day at the hospital, even sleeping in the room with Talia at night when I needed to catch up on my sleep. It is her love and support that got us through the difficult days, weeks and months following the surgery and it is her special bond with Talia that lets Talia feel as though she has three parents and not just two.”
During De Jong’s speech Talia stood embraced by her tearful father. When the Star asked her how she felt about the relay, she was effusive.
“It’s nice having also these people out here with me,” she said. “I have a really great family.”
The $250,000 donation from the province will help the Shriners cover capital improvements for their transportation program. Since 1903, the organization has raised millions of dollars for children requiring treatment for things like orthopedic conditions, burns, spinal cord injuries, and cleft lip and palate conditions, regardless of the family’s ability to pay.