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It takes a community

A new generation of volunteer projects and fundraisers are succeeding by reaching out to the countryside

In a time when many volunteer-driven events are struggling, a Terry Fox Run in Wilmot Township near Kitchener, Ont., has increased the money it raises in support of cancer research by more than tenfold in the past five years.

Community involvement has been the key to this growth, says event co-organizer Nigel Gordijk. For the first couple of years that Nigel and his wife Cheryl organized the event, they didn’t change much and the proceeds stayed about the same at around the $2,000 mark.

By year five, that total had grown to $26,000.

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The first big change came in 2015 when the Gordijks re-branded the event, changing it from the New Hamburg Terry Fox Run, named for the town, to the Wilmot Terry Fox Run, named for the township. “We felt there were people in Wilmot we weren’t reaching,” says Nigel.

“Perceptions are important,” agrees Cheryl.

There must have been something to that because the year they changed the name, the number of run participants tripled and the proceeds from the event climbed to $14,000, more than five times the previous year’s take.

Nigel and Cheryl willingly share what they’ve learned with others. They have made presentations to the provincial meeting of Terry Fox Run organizers and also to other local event committees. Nigel is quick to point out that while they know what works in their community, it may be different elsewhere.

The run, which always takes place the second Sunday after Labour Day, coincides with the date of the local fall fair. After being approached by the local agricultural society which organizes the fair, the Terry Fox Run start was moved to the fairgrounds and the participants receive free fair admission, a benefit for all.

In 2016, the Gordijks, who essentially do all of the planning themselves, made another shift by adding more fundraisers and events throughout the year. Until then, proceeds from the event came primarily from pledges from the run participants. That year they added a silent auction of items donated by local businesses as well as a fitness challenge and a Terry Fox Breakfast at a local restaurant.

This grew in 2017 to a total of 18 additional events, which accounted for about 20 per cent of the total proceeds. These included a restaurant which donated 100 per cent of their profits from one day, a bakery that donated the sales from cookies shaped like Terry’s shoes, and a coffee roasting company that donated the proceeds from raffling off a gift basket.

Generally, the businesses ran these fundraisers on their own and then donated the money they made to the Wilmot Terry Fox Run, which meant they didn’t require any additional work on the Gordijks’ part, although Nigel and Cheryl are careful to ensure all fundraisers meet the guidelines put in place by the Terry Fox Foundation.

A summer music festival called the Marathon of Shows was also added in 2017. Musicians volunteered their time to perform at various locations around town in return for donations. While the event only raised $700, less than the Gordijks had hoped, the couple did several media interviews which raised awareness for the Terry Fox Run.

Social media also play an important role in their publicity. Nigel and Cheryl post frequently to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

The Gordijks are planning another Marathon of Shows this summer and are adding another unique event they’ve called Chairs of Hope. Local artists are donating their time to paint 11 Muskoka chairs which have been supplied by local businesses. The chairs will be sold via online auction after being on display at various community events.

Business support continues to grow as the Gordijks have received more inquiries from local businesses offering to help in their own way. Cheryl says it’s essential to let businesses and volunteers choose how they will help instead of telling them what to do.

While some communities are struggling to continue their Terry Fox Runs due to a lack of volunteers, that’s not the case in Wilmot Township. Nigel said they’ve already had people emailing with offers of help. Last year 14 people helped the day of the run.

Profits from local T-shirt sales accounted for about $1,500 last year, but that number may go up in 2018. In March of this year Nigel had the honour of having his T-shirt design selected by the provincial directors as the winning design from all the entries submitted. An amazing 50,000 T-shirts will be printed with the design.

Nigel, a graphic designer who specializes in working with small businesses and non-profits, says the inspiration for the design came to him out of the blue while he was working on a website for a client last December. He quickly put aside what he was doing to work on the ideas that had come to mind.

Having grown up in the United Kingdom, Nigel admits he hadn’t fully appreciated at first what Terry Fox accomplished in his short life.

An active volunteer, Nigel just thought of it as another community event amongst many in town. However, the more he learned about Terry Fox the person — his vision, his drive and his unique ability to inspire others — the more passionate he became about honouring his memory at the local run.

“It’s incredibly fulfilling and uplifting to join with people across the country every year to raise money that will end cancer,” Nigel says.

And, as a newcomer to Canada, he says being part of the Terry Fox Run gives him a deeper connection to his adoptive home.

“There’s nothing more intrinsically Canadian than Terry,” Nigel repeats. “We’ll keep going as long as the ideas keep coming!”

Truly Canadian

Terry Fox is a true hero. At the age of 18, he was struck by bone cancer and had to have his leg amputated above the knee. Seeing the suffering of others while in hospital, Fox decided to run all across Canada from east to west to raise money for cancer research. He called his journey the Marathon of Hope.

In 1980 Fox ran an average of 42 km (26 miles), the equivalent of a marathon, every day for 143 days. He was forced to quit on September 1 of that year near Thunder Bay when the cancer spread to his lungs. Before he died in June of 1981 at the age of 22, he had raised $24 million, realizing his dream of raising a dollar for every Canadian.

Fox’s legacy lives on. To date, $750 million has been raised worldwide for cancer research. In communities across Canada, some 9,000 Terry Fox Runs are held each year. Most events are not limited to runners. Many people walk, bike, skateboard or push strollers. To participate or get involved in a local event, go to the Terry Fox Foundation website.

In all, 82 cents from every dollar raised goes to innovative research to cure many types of cancer. In 2016-17, almost $24 million was directed to cancer research programs at hospital and research organizations across Canada.

Terry Fox Run T-shirts.
photo: Supplied

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Helen Lammers-Helps

Freelance Writer

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