Township of Langley Firefighters’ Charitable Society director Gareth Lockhart was able to catch one of the communication sessions offered to stroke survivors during the weekly Langley Hope After Stroke groups. The sessions are held Wednesdays and Fridays at the Walnut Grove Community Centre, and run by founder Marilyn Piticco, who was grateful to also receive a donation from Lockhart on behalf of the firefighters. (TLFCS photo/Special to the Langley Advance)

Firefighters come to the rescue of Langley stroke survivors

Hope After Stroke receives major infusion after Cruise-In donation falls short of expectation.

Firefighters have been a huge part of Marilyn Piticco’s life and it’s no surprise to the Walnut Grove woman that they’ve come to her rescue.

Piticco is the founder and operator of the Langley Community Support Group, a charity that runs weekly “Hope After Stroke” sessions for local stroke survivors.

The organization has long since been supported financially by the Langley Good Times Cruise-In. But in December, Piticco learned the amount of money available from last year’s charity car show was much lower than expected.

In the past 15 years, the stroke group has typically received $10,000 to $12,000 annually. This year, she received a cheque for $3,300, just days before Christmas.

The news hit Piticco particularly hard.

While she acknowledged that the shortfall was through no fault of the Cruise-In committee, she admitted the bad news came at a very difficult time – on the second anniversary of her husband Randy’s death.

Randy was a popular retired fire captain from Surrey. Even though he died six years after retiring, the passing of the 61-year-old veteran firefighter, was still considered a line-of-duty death. Hundreds of firefighters, including members of the Township of Langley Firefighters’ Charitable Society attended his funeral.

Fast forward two years, and hearing of the Hope After Stroke group’s plight, members of the TLFCS called an impromptu meeting and “quickly decided to step up,” explained TLFCS director Gareth Lockhart.

After seeing the Langley Advance story, he and fellow members voted unanimously to help by covering a large part of this year’s shortfall with a one-time donation.

“Our thought was to cover a large portion of the shortfall that Marilyn spoke about in the article as a one-time donation,” he said.

“This would give them some time to prepare for this season’s low donation level and make some adjustments and help them offer their usual level of service through the year,” Lockhart added.

Since the original newspaper article appeared, Piticco has received other donations that have helped take the pressure off for this year, she said.

But, the situation has shown her that there is a need for more secure fundraising for Hope After Stroke.

“This donation will allow us to breathe a little easier for the next few months, until we are able to find the additional funding needed for this year,” she said, explaining that she hasn’t been as focused on fundraising since her husband’s passing.

Hope After Stroke offers support sessions two days a week. Piticco indicated there was a “very real possibility” that if funding hadn’t come through that her group would have had to scale back to one day a week, “which would dramatically affect our program,” she said.

“We have two groups that operate very differently from each other, in that one is for young stroke survivors. Many of those stroke survivors were working and raising families when they suffered a stroke, making for a whole different set of difficulties. We are often their lifeline, and with the support and encouragement from our program, they are able to find their way back,” Piticco elaborated.

She expressed “heartfelt gratitude” to the Township of Langley Firefighters’ Charitable Society and others for coming to the rescue. TLFCS is a not-for-profit society made up of local firefighters who are focused on fundraising and benevolent activities this community.

“This [experience] seriously just gave me such a jolt, a jolt I needed…” said Piticco. “I’m going to hit the pavement” and start hunting for more ongoing sponsors who can help ensure the program’s future.

She admitted the scare has catapulted her back into the right head space after what she describes as life in a “widow’s fog” for the past two years.

In talking with one of her volunteers just before Christmas, she was in despair.

He compared her to George (Jimmy Stewart) in the movie It’s A Wonderful Life. And she initially didn’t see it, but now she does.

It wasn’t until the group was in crisis, when she reached out through the media for help, that she started to realize how much support there actually was out there for the group and her efforts to help stroke victims.

Thankfully, just like in the famous Christmas movie, it wasn’t just the TLFCS that stepped up with their $3,500 donation.

There were a number of other individuals, families, companies in the community that have come forward and offered a lifeline, she said.

“It was not lost on me the fire department [is] coming to my rescue literally,” Piticco added.

Since the media attention brought this situation to light, her group has received $13,500 in donations.

That’s “enough,” she insisted, to carry the support group for the next year, and give her sufficient time to secure ongoing sponsorship.

“It’s a beautiful way to come into the new year,” said Piticco.

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